Uncertainty over Garden Bridge as pleading letter counters funding problems

James Nickerson
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Pidgeon said the project is incredibly uncertain (Source: Garden Bridge Trust)

Uncertainties over London's Garden Bridge are building after a letter sent by the chairman of its trust to the secretary of state pleaded for a commitment to the project before a funding gap was revealed.

The letter, written before it was revealed there was a gap in funds of more than £50m for the project, makes it clear the trust is confident it can raise money for the project.

A letter sent by Lord Davies of Abersoch to transport secretary Chris Grayling emerged in which Davies said: "Whilst I appreciate in your recent appointment you will be faced with many priorities, I write to seek your assurance that the government remains supportive of this world first project."

The letter, revealed by a Freedom of Information request, was also bullish about private fundraising, despite it being admitted on Newsnight that some donors have changed their minds.

"In addition, the government’s support has enabled us to secure substantial private funding to take the total amount raised to date over £130m, with a very strong pipeline and advanced discussions continuing both in terms of the construction and for the ongoing maintenance of the bridge. There is enormous interest from trusts, foundations, corporates and individual philanthropists who are keen to be part of a project with London’s cultural ambition at its heart," it read.

Read more: Completing Garden Bridge "in financial interest" of Londoners says Khan

The letter was written before the BBC revealed the funding gap was millions of pounds more than previously thought. The trust has £60m of taxpayers' money.

Hold-ups in land negotiations and planning matters now mean the total cost of the project is currently estimated to increase to £185m, the Garden Bridge Trust said. "The Trust has raised just over £69m of private funding from 2013 to June 2016. A further £55.9m is required to meet the fundraising total," it said.

Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrats at the London Assembly, said: “The fact that the Garden Bridge Trust have to write begging letters to the new secretary of state for transport having already spent so much public money says everything about just how uncertain this project now finds itself.

"Following the latest revelations about the finances of the project it is time the mayor ended the taxpayer financial guarantee for the long term maintenance and upkeep of this vanity project.‎"

A statement from the Garden Bridge Trust said: "The Chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, Lord Mervyn Davies, has called on the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to demonstrate the government’s continued commitment to the Bridge at a crucial time for the project. The Trust has asked for the government’s £15m underwriting of the project to be extended by a year to September 2017 – from the existing £60m public funding package – and is currently awaiting a decision."

The mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said there can be no more than £30m of support from Transport for London and the Greater London Authority.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: "Sadiq has been clear that he will not agree to any more of London taxpayers' money being spent on the project."

A DfT spokesperson said: “The trustees of the Garden Bridge have asked for an extension to the financial support the government is providing to the project. Ministers are considering the request.”

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