Future of London’s Garden Bridge cast into doubt as accounts published

13 Jan 17

The trust responsible for the delivery of the Garden Bridge in London has issued a grave warning about the financial health of the scheme, raising fears that it may be cancelled.

Also, in the event the scheme does go ahead, costs are likely to rise substantially from the currently projected £185m, the charity said.

In a statement of its accounts, delayed from last year and published this week, the Garden Bridge Trust said it could not confirm it was a “going concern”, and trustees felt obliged to highlight the risks associated with the project. 

The trustees added that it might be necessary “to consider the further delay to the project, and in a worst case scenario, whether the project remains viable”.

The proposed bridge, which will span the River Thames from Temple station to the South Bank, had been scheduled to open in 2019. It has received £60m of taxpayer money from the Department for Transport and Transport for London.

According to a report by the National Audit Office issued in October last year, the department was left with only limited oversight of the project.

Moreover, the spending watchdog found that the Department for Transport would stand to loose £22.5m of the grant should the scheme fall through altogether.

The trust’s accounts reveal that no new private funding had been secured for the project for almost two years. Also, the funding gap has increased to £56m due to an increase in the budget from £175m to £185m last year.

The main stumbling blocks to the project appear to be difficulties securing land at each end of the bridge, and a guarantee from new London mayor Sadiq Khan to underwrite the predicted £3m annual costs of maintaining the bridge. The EU referendum result has also had a negative impact, the trust said.

Commenting on the revelations in the accounts, Tom Copley, a Labour member of the London Assembly, said: “This report makes for incredibly concerning reading. We already knew this venture was strapped for cash but now Londoners will rightly worry that there’ll be an attempt to draw on more public funds.”

Copley said the Garden Bridge was beginning to look like “a development on the verge of collapse”.

In a statement released on 11 January, Lord Mervyn Davies, chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, said the project had made “significant progress”.

He said: “We have consistently flagged the areas of risk to the project about acquiring land, the signing of the Mayoral Guarantee, our funding position and the cost of the project.”

Despite the warning in the statement of accounts, Davies was upbeat. “We strongly believe we can progress all outstanding issues and we are determined to make the project happen,” he said.   

Davies said he expected construction to start this year.  

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