The Garden Bridge dream is over, but the recriminations have only just begun.
The earliest advocates of the project were David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. The latter was mayor of London and the other two pushed for funding against the direct advice of civil servants.
Indeed, when Osborne was chancellor he committed £30m of taxpayers’ money to the scheme without any involvement from the Department for Transport – which normally has a say in major transport infrastructure. It fell to Sadiq Khan to rain on their parade and stand up for the public finances, yesterday reiterating it was his “duty to ensure taxpayers’ money was spent responsibly”. If only someone had made this case sooner.
As it is, nearly £40m of public funds has already been splurged, with a further £9m at risk thanks to the government underwriting cancellation costs.
In April, Dame Margaret Hodge (a former chair of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee) carried out a review into the project at the request of Khan, and concluded that it ought to be scrapped.
Her scathing report criticised just about every element of the scheme – from funding and procurement to the tendering process and value for money. She also suggested that the idea owed more to politics and electoral cycles than it did to developing a viable new piece of infrastructure.
Of course, London does need more bridges. The ones we’ve got are being squeezed by the addition of cycle lanes and congestion is mounting.
Functional, new bridges in the east may not be as eye-catching for politicians looking to make a statement, but they’d deliver a great deal more value than a leafy tourist attraction.
The Garden Bridge idea was originally proposed by the actress Joanna Lumley, who promised it would be “a tiara” on London. She says she is “devastated” that her vision will not see the light of day.
Tens of millions of pounds were poured into the Thames in support of this project, figuratively – but almost literally. On a brighter note, Khan has given his backing to three new crossings in the east of the city in the form of a new Silvertown Tunnel, a DLR crossing at Gallions Reach and a pedestrian bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf – all of which are far more useful than a garden.