The view downstream from the South Bank to St Pauls Cathedral before and after the Garden Bridge
[Fair Use: courtesy of Thames Central Open Spaces]
The London Mayoral and Assembly Elections take place this Thursday and one of the most urgent questions facing the new incumbents at City Hall are what to do about Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick’s controversial Garden Bridge between Temple and the South Bank and the tens of millions of pounds of public money and guarantees committed to the project, which many argue is the result of a rigged procurement process ?
For the new Mayor and Assembly Members [and anyone wanting to bring themselves up to speed on one of the most controversial planning decisions in recent London history], here is the timeline of the Garden Bridge planning process [with added essential backstory].
Even though a contract has been granted for construction works it has been a bumpy few months for the controversial Thames Garden Bridge. The bridge has been back in the news after a cutting report into its procurement by the Greater London Authority Oversight Committee, which followed hard on the heels of more embarrassing revelations about outgoing London Mayor Boris Johnson’s off grid meetings with bridge designer Thomas Heatherwick and his childhood babysitter, actor Joanna Lumley, from Will Hurst, the tenacious managing editor at the Architects Journal.
Mr Hurst and the Architects Journal, who got a thorough deserved name check in the GLA Oversight Committee’s report for their good old fashioned investigative reporting in the public interest, have now also published the results of further Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] Requests which have revealed that the designer of the Garden Bridge, Thomas Heatherwick, held a series of meetings with senior staff of the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, before Mr Johnson and his staff flew to Los Angeles at public expense in February 2013, to hold abortive talks with executives from Apple about sponsoring the Garden Bridge. Talks which also included Mr Heatherwick who, quite coincidentally, happened to be in Los Angeles at the same time as the Mayor’s party.
The visit to California took place over a week before transport for London actually issued the tender for what it then described simply as a pedestrian bridge between Temple tube station and the South Bank with no mention of a single pot plant, let alone Joanna Lumley’s vision of flowery, sylvan, loveliness.
Not only that, a confidential draft report from Richard De Cani, at that time TfL’s director of strategy and policy, to senior Transport for London Managers dated December 2012, two months before the supposed open competition to design the new pedestrian bridge contained the following comment;
“The designer Thomas Heatherwick, supported by the actress Joanna Lumley, has proposed a new footbridge in central London connecting Temple with the South Bank.
The Mayor is extremely supportive of the need for additional footbridges across the Thames and is keen for TfL to support this proposal.’
So going into the entirely open and fair competition, far from TfL requiring the services of Mystic Meg to predict the wishes of the Mayor, or perhaps given his enthusiasm for all things Classical, a diviner capable of interpreting the guts of eviscerated chickens, all the TfL officers had to do was read Mr De Cani’s briefing note to find out just what Mayor Johnson wanted and then ensure they delivered it.
This also made it so much easier when Mr De Cani came to score the three tenders for the proposed footbridge to the South Bank. All he had to do was to read his own briefing note, and tick the boxes accordingly.
For anyone needing slightly more detail on the procurement of the Garden Bridge and the issues it has raises. issues which go to the heart of discussions about the integrity of the UK’s political governance, here is the a timeline of how an old family friend turned the pipe dream of an actor and a flavour of the month designer, into a multi million pound corporate bun fight.
1 May 1946: Joanna Lumley born.
19 June 1964: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson born.
c1968: Joanna Lumley babysits the four year old Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, as she later reveals in an interview with the BBC’s Alan Yentob [see 29 July 2013].
23 May 1971: Gideon Oliver [now known as George] Osborne is born.
1983-1987: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson attends Oxford University and becomes a member of the Bullingdon Club.
1990-1993: Gideon Oliver [now known as George] Osborne attends Oxford University and also becomes a member of the Bullingdon Club.
1996: As a design exercise the Royal Academy invite seven international architects to design an inhabited bridge for London which will run from Temple Gardens on the north bank to the Thames Television building east of the National Theatre on the south bank.
The competition is won jointly by Zaha Hadid and the French practice Antoine Grumbach & Associates.
Grumbach, whose design essentially extends Jubilee Gardens over the river explains;
“I wanted to make a promenade over the water”.
None of the schemes in the competition go forward to the planning stage.
31 August 1997: Diana Princess of Wales, aka “the Queen of Hearts” aka “the People’s Princess” dies in a car crash in Paris. Joanna Lumley proposes a Garden Bridge be built in central London as a tribute. Sir Terence Conran introduces Lumley to Thomas Heatherwick who works up a design working with engineers Ove Arup. However, the Diana Fountain designed by Kathryn Gustafson is built in Hyde Park instead. Built after going over budget by £600,000 and having to be bailed out by the Department for Culture Media and Sport that is.
NB: The Diana fountain is immediately beset by problems including slippery algae, people wanting to paddle in it and worse wanting to let their dogs paddle in it. An easy mistake to make as some cynics thought it looked more like a storm drain than an appropriate tribute to the “People’s Princess”.
As we will see there is a bit of theme developing here relating to marmite, love it or hate it, designs, cost overruns and design cock ups.
January 2005: The 185ft high B of the Bang sculpture, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, at a cost of £1.5 million is inaugurated as part of the legacy of the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. Nicknamed “Kerplunk” after the children’s game which it is alleged to resemble, the Council is forced to establish an exclusion zone around the sculpture when the large steel spikes which form the “bang” begin to fall off.
1 May 2008: With the aid of election strategist Lynton Crosby [the Lizard of Oz] Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson gets a haircut, avoids in depth interviews with political journalists, and beats Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone to become the elected Mayor of London.
The role of Chair of Transport for London goes with the job giving the Mayor huge influence on transport strategy, which is sensible as long as the Mayor acts objectively and takes good advice. This influence extends to issues of procurement, which can lead to problems as we shall see.
The Mayor decides to create a new Routemaster bus for the twenty first century and Thomas Heatherwick is chosen to style it. Fortunately after the experience of the B of the Bang he chooses not to cover the buses in spikes, Mad Max style, opting instead for sweeping lines of glass and cool interior colours.
Built by Wrightbus of Ballymena Northern Ireland, the “Boris Buses” are later shown to be substantially more expensive than a proven, off the shelf hybrid double deck bus.
2009: Fed up with a sculpture which plays Russian Roulette with passing pedestrians, Manchester City Council demolish the B of the Bang sculpture on grounds of public safety.
The Council sues Thomas Heatherwick for breach of contract and negligence. Heatherwick agrees to pay the Council £1.7 million in an out of court settlement.
4 July 2010: Mayor Boris Johnson champions a cable car link across the Thames between the Greenwich peninsula near the Millennium Dome and Silvertown saying;
“The aim is to fund the construction of the scheme entirely from private finance and discussions are ongoing with a number of private sector organisations that have expressed interest in the project.”
11 January 2011: Documents released by the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking reveal that News International executive Will Lewis wrote about potential sponsorship of the Cable car line;
“Re cable cars … Transport for London have submitted their original planning application and are awaiting the results next month. Once granted, we can hopefully jump in – if we want to.”
In September 2010 Boris Johnson had attacked the phone hacking allegations implicating News International in phone hacking “on an industrial scale” as;
“a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour party”.
This mutual support between Boris Johnson and News International is entirely coincidental.
27 February 2012: First “New Routemaster” or “Boris Bus” styled by Thomas Heatherwick enters service. The buses are soon heavily criticised on account of their alleged gloomy upper deck with small windows offering poor views, cramped seats, poor ventilation, and battery failures. The buses also release more harmful particulates into the air than the buses they replaced. In July 2015 Transport expert Christian Woolmer tells the London Evening Standard newspaper;
“This is further evidence that this project was misconceived from the start. I have been told that drivers have been complaining about the failed batteries since August last year and yet nothing has been done. It is no surprise the emissions are higher than those on conventional buses as the New Bus for London is not operating as designed. It is supposed to be powered by an electric motor, but instead is using its inefficient diesel engine that should, in normal conditions, be running at constant speed”.
13 April 2012: The London Evening Standard runs a story that Mayor Boris Johnson was considering reviving Antoine Grumbach’s 1996 plan for an inhabited bridge across the Thames between Waterloo and Blackfriars.
The story added;
“Called Garden Bridge it also included plans for hedge, trees and greenhouses alongside spaces for live concerts and a topiary cafe.”
11 May 2012: Joanna Lumley writes to Boris Johnson to congratulate him on his re-election as Mayor and saying
“Heatherwick and I would very much like to meet you in the near future to talk most earnestly about the idea of a bridge.”
21 June 2012: Boris Johnson replies to Joanna Lumley saying;
“I would very much like to hear [your] ideas for a new bridge across the Thames.”
and suggesting she meets some of his staff to discuss the idea.
28 June 2012: The £60 million Emirates Air Line cable car crossing of the Thames between the Millennium Dome and West Silvertown opens in time for the Olympic Games at Stratford. Boris Johnson says;
“We said we could deliver this travel link in quick time, and today we have shown that this city is capable of attracting serious investment to deliver world class infrastructure.
As the world’s eyes focus on our city, I can think of no better message to send out across the globe.”
However, after the Olympics the service operates on average at less than 10% of capacity and only four Oyster Card users qualify for the commuters frequent use discount on the normal fare of £3.30 one way.
26 July 2012: Joanna Lumley meets two of Boris Johnson’s senior planning staff; Deputy Mayors for Planning and Transport Edward Lister and Isabel Dedring.
24 September 2012: Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley attend a meeting with Boris Johnson, Deputy Mayor for Planning Edward Lister and Deputy Mayor for Transport Isabel Dedring to;
“…discuss the idea for a Garden Bridge.”
26 November 2012: The Commissioner of Transport for London, Peter Hendy meets Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick.
14 December 2012: TfL’s director of strategy and policy, Richard De Cani, writes a twelve page “draft and confidential” briefing note which describes the Heatherwick/Lumley plan for a Garden Bridge and which concludes;
“The Mayor is extremely supportive of the need for additional footbridges across the Thames and is keen for TfL to support this proposal.”
This statement suggests that as of mid December 2012 at the latest Mayor Johnson had communicated to his most senior staff that he wanted the Garden Bridge to be given the go ahead by TfL who were supposedly in charge of procuring it.
17 December 2012: Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley meets with Peter Hendy and TfL managing director of planning Michele Dix. A further meeting the same day to discuss ‘Garden Bridge next steps’ is attended by Thomas Heatherwick, Joanna Lumley and Deputy Mayor Isabel Dedring.
January 2013: During January 2013 Mayor Johnson holds meetings with Hendy and Dix and asks TfL to develop a novel design “based around a living bridge.”
8 Janaury: TfL Lawyers warn that there must be seen to be a “level playing field” in any procurement competition because Heatherwick has already pitched his idea for a Garden Bridge. However;
9 January 2013: Referring to Peter Hendy and Isabel Dedring, TfL head of corporate affairs Caroline Murdoch writes to De Cani and Dix, apparently indicating that TfL now has a route map to procuring the Garden Bridge from the Heatherwick/Lumley/Arup nexus.
“‘Isabel is going to let them know that there will be a proposed way forward that might be shared with them early next week. I will give you a verbal update on the rest of the discussion (unless Peter would prefer to?)’
15 January 2013: The Labour Leader of Lambeth Council where the south landing of the Garden Bridge would be situated, Lib Peck, meets Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley.
16 January 2013: Michele Dix writes to De Cani;
“‘Richard can we insert a section on alternative approaches as we discussed yesterday. Given all the work TH [Thomas Heatherwick]/Arup has done to date – is it going to be quicker for them to take the lead – and we help
ie it is promoted as a private sector bridge – with a benefactor to pay for it, ie I assume this was how the Millennium Bridge was taken forward? If there was a benefactor found up front they effectively to start much sooner without all the policy complications we have. We could offer expert advice on a no payment
31 January 2013: Thomas Heatherwick attends a “planning proposal” meeting with Deputy Mayor Edward Lister.
1 February 2013: Thomas Heatherwick attends a meeting with the senior officials who will be flying to San Francisco to solicit sponsorship for the project, Boris Johnson himself, and Deputy Mayors Lister and Dedring.
3-5 February 2013: Boris Johnson and his party of officials fly to San Franciso for a meeting with Apple regarding the possible sponsorship of the Garden Bridge. However, the Mayor’s diary [below], released under the Freedom of Information Act, records that this was a “Private Trip”.
The costs of over £9000 for the “Private Trip” are charged to the tax payer.
Thomas Heatherwick, who just happens to also be in San Francisco at the same time, is also included in meetings with Apple.
8 February 2013: TfL approach the Heatherwick Studio, indicating they are about to issue a tender for a pedestrian bridge in central London.
TfL also approach two other established practices Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield.
The reasons for approaching the three firms are clear as all three have experience building bridges. Both Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield have built a number of bridges with Wilkinson Eyre winning the prestigious Stirling Prize for its Millennium Bridge in Gateshead. Heatherwick studios have built just one small bridge over a canal in Paddington.
13 February 2013: Transport for London issue an invitation to tender to the three firms asking them;
“…to secure design advice to help progress ideas for a new footbridge crossing of the River Thames in Central London.”
Nowhere in the tender documents is there a mention of TfL wanting to procure a Garden Bridge in spite of the fact the Mayor has already been soliciting money from commercial sponsors to build one.
25 February 2013: Midday- the deadline for tender submissions.
Heatherwick Studio’s miss the deadline via the e-portal, a factor which would normally disqualify the bid, however, the company submit a manual application which is accepted late.
Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield, also submit tenders.
In the TfL assessment of the tenders is scored by Richard De Cani working alone.
Thomas Heatherwick a score of four out of five in the “relevant design experience” category, while the much more experienced Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Byfield score three out of five.
Walter Menteth, a former chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ procurement reform group, tells the Architects Journal that the scoring of the tenders;
“does not make any sense.”
Mr Menteth adds;
“The fact that Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre scored considerably lower than Heatherwick for design experience in a bridge competition raises serious questions about the process.”
In the section of the bid document regarding potential conflicts of interest, Heatherwick Studio also fails to mention that its Associate on the bid, Joanna Lumley, is a longstanding family friend of Mayor and TfL Chair, Boris Johnson.
8 March 2013: TfL’s commercial manager questions the scoring for the tenders. However, the same day TfL tells Heatherwick Studio [which has only ever built one small bridge over a canal in Paddington] that they have been awarded the contract to build the Garden Bridge.
April 2013: TfL issue a second tender with the aim of developing a technical design for the Garden Bridge.
29 July 2013: BBC Culture Show documentary “The Unstopable Thomas Heatherwick” is broadcast during which Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick discuss their vision for the Garden Bridge with Alan Yentob.
Joanna Lumley says of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s support for the project;
“I’ve known Boris since he was four so he was largely quite amenable.”
October 2013: Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that Boris Johnson accepted return flights and accommodation in Italy from the owner of the London Evening Standard, Evgeny Lebedev.
Asked to explain City Hall tell the website Snipe;
“I can confirm that this was a private jet flight and the estimated value was £1,696.00. The flight was taken by Boris Johnson in a purely personal capacity and not in his capacity as the Mayor of London. The GLA does not hold a list of the people on the flight or the make of jet. “
The declaration also states that the journey from Luton airport back to London is paid for by a friend of Mr Johnson, Sarah Sands, who just happens to be the editor of the London Evening Standard.
NB: It is entirely coincidental that the Evening Standard supported Boris Johnson in his Mayoral campaigns and has been a cheerleader for the Garden Bridge.
There is also no connection between the above support for Mayor Johnson and the Garden Bridge and the fact that the owner of the Standard, Evgeny Lebedev is described as a “Governor” of the Garden Bridge scheme in , you’ve guessed it, the Evening Standard.
1 November 2013: The Garden Bridge project is announced to the public and a consultation period begins which is scheduled to last two months.
4 December 2013: The Government publishes the National infrastructure Plan which includes a commitment to fund the Garden Bridge to the tune of £30 million as part of the overall funding package of money which also draws cash from private sources and TfL. The public purse in now exposed to the tune of £60 million to subsidise the private Garden Bridge Trust.
28 January 2014: A profile of Joanna Lumley published in the Evening Standard in which the author eulogises the Garden Bridge and says;
“When I part from Lumley I catch the 59 bus back to my own bit of scruffy south London. The bus swings around Aldwych and past Arundel Street, where the demolition of brutalist office blocks offers a new vista of the river. I can picture the Garden Bridge soaring across. It has to be built.”
June 2014: Fearing further riots along the lines of those which occurred in 2011, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) buy three, second hand, twenty five years old, wasserwerfer [water cannon] from the German Police at a cost of £330,000 without waiting for Home Secretary Theresa May’s authorisation to use them. Worse checks by the Home Office reveal 67 major technical issues which would need to be solved before they could be put on the streets.
Eventually the Home Secretary bans the use of the weapons.
The vehicles, now allegedly not even worth selling for scrap, are last seen by a BBC drone lurking behind hoardings a Police training facility in Gravesend.
12 August 2014: Tim Jones, Principal Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas for London English Heritage [now Historic England] tells Lambeth Council that in English Heritage’s opinion the Garden Bridge will
“… will change but not cause harm.” and represent a “picturesque incident in the riverscape”
English Heritage adds;
“the Bridge provides an opportunity perhaps without parallel to enjoy at leisure and in relative tranquility views over Lambeth and the two Cities which can presently only be appreciated from the less than relaxing ambience of Waterloo Bridge”.
November 2014: Joanna Lumley tells a Lambeth Council planning meeting that the cycle lane on the Garden Bridge was dropped at her insistence because it would stop the bridge being “a nice place to walk.” Skateboarding will also be banned as will flying a kite, giving a speech or entering the shrubbery.
28 November 2014: The Surveyor to the Fabric of St Pauls Cathedral, Oliver Caroe, writes to Westminster Counil saying that the “expensive and controversial project” would have “irreversible impacts on some of most iconic the views of St Paul’s”. Mr Caroe confirmed he had “significant misgivings” and alleged that the cathedral authorities could;
“currently find no record of having been consulted on this proposal.”
Mr Caroe concludes;
“Your own report spells out the harms, not just to the protected views from Waterloo Bridge and the South Bank but also to incidental views (both at day and at night) that London currently freely enjoys,”
19 December 2014: London Borough of Lambeth grant planning permission for the Garden Bridge subject to the satisfactory discharge of various planning conditions.
22 December 2014: Westminster City Council grant planning permission for the Garden Bridge subject to various conditions.
2 May 2015: The Observer reveals that green groups are attacking the Garden Bridge project over the involvement of the controversial mining company Glencore which has been linked to a string of alleged human rights and environmental abuses.
Charlie Kronick, senior climate adviser of Greenpeace UK, tells the Observer:
“Glencore are just another fossil fuel peddler hoping they can greenwash their grubby reputation by giving London another shiny toy. As London-based journalists and politicians wander from the BP-sponsored Tate, past the Shell-sponsored National Theatre, across the Glencore-sponsored bridge to the Rio Tinto-sponsored Royal Opera House, the sponsors will hope it will be very easy to forget the devastation they inflict on the rest of the world.”
It is also pointed out that each tree on the Garden Bridge will effectively cost £636,000.
15 September 2015: TfL releases its internal audit of the Garden Bridge procurement process. Although it clears TfL of any significant failure the audit concludes;
“However, TfL’s role in the project was unclear from the outset and this was a strong factor in there not being an agreed procurement strategy in place. It is clear that the project would have benefited from a procurement strategy, although the reasons for not having one are understandable. Two different procurement approaches were adopted and, in both procurements, there were some instances where TfL policy and procedure with regard to communication with bidders and tender evaluation were not fully complied with.”
17 September 2015: Richard di Cani, the managing director for planning of TfL, who single handed scored the 2013 Garden Bridge tenders, appears before the London Authority Oversight Committee to discuss the procurement of the Garden Bridge where the following dialogue is recorded;
Tom Copley AM: You say “appreciation and understanding”. Heatherwick [Studios] had an appreciation and understanding of what the Mayor wanted. This seems to have been ‘crowbarred’ in. I find this absolutely astonishing. You were asking three people to design something when you are expecting something else, and one of the companies had been tipped off that it is this extra thing that you actually wanted. I am sorry I should probably stop here. I just cannot believe you can sit there and say this is not advantaging a particular company that TfL, the Mayor or people around the Mayor seem to have a particular affinity for.
Richard de Cani (Managing Director of Planning, TfL): If you look at all three submissions – and you look at Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield – and how they responded to what we were asking for, they provided less detail on their understanding of our brief which is why they scored less.
Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM: Because they could not read the magic ink!
Tom Copley AM: Thank you Caroline: you’ve found the right words. Because they could not read the magic ink. If you do not tell a company that is what you are looking for in a brief they are not going to provide what you are looking for. This is astonishing.
25 September 2015: Labour Mayoral Candidate Sadiq Khan states that he opposes the Garden Bridge saying;
“In principle I love the idea of the Garden Bridge, but what we were sold is a long way from the reality we now face. It has become another of Boris Johnson’s white elephant projects – like the Cable Car which is used by few at the cost of millions of pounds.
“I believe it no longer represents value for money. This was supposed to be an entirely privately funded project costing £60 million, but the overall cost has tripled, and £60 million is being paid for out of the public purse, with a possible maintenance cost of £3.5 million a year – for a bridge which will often be closed to the public for private events and won’t be open overnight.”
22 October 2015: At the third time of asking Len Duvall, Chair of the Greater London Authority Oversight Committee forces TfL’s Director of Audit, Clive Walker to admit that the procurement process for the Garden Bridge was neither “open nor objective”.
2 November 2015: Reverse Ferret from Sadiq Khan and Labour Leader of Lambeth Council Lib Peck, as they both state they will now support the Garden Bridge because the public money from Transport for London has been converted into a loan.
Critics swiftly point out that the terms of the loan are so generous [an interest free loan repayable after fifty years], that it is effectively a gift.
It is later alleged that Lambeth Council was threatened by TfL.
13 January 2016: Sky announces it is to sponsor the Garden Bridge.
Jeremy Darroch, Group Chief Executive, Sky, commented:
“We are delighted to support the Garden Bridge. The project will enrich London, helping us to give back to the city where Sky was founded over twenty five years ago and remains headquartered today. The Garden Bridge will create a beautiful and tranquil space for us all to enjoy, and will become an iconic landmark in the heart of our capital city.”
The press release also reports that Sky will name one of the large central gardens on the Bridge.
16 January 2016: The National Audit Office [NAO] finds George Osborne avoided official channels as well as TfL oversight in providing funding to the Garden Bridge. The NAO warns that the Garden Bridge project might have been rejected if those processes had been followed and that there is a “high degree of uncertainty” over the value for money of the project.
29 January 2016: Boris Johnson’s office tell London talk radio station LBC;
“The Mayor met with Apple in 2013 to discuss a number of investment opportunities in London. Thomas Heatherwick was also in California to meet a separate commitment with Apple.
“Given that he had already expressed interest in creating a Garden Bridge, the Mayor invited him to join the meeting and outline his ideas.”
“That meeting had no bearing on the procurement process led by Transport for London for the design of the Garden Bridge, which was open, fair and transparent.”
2 February 2016: Boris Johnson is challenged over the Garden Bridge on an LBC phone in. Johnson obfuscates over details of the San Francisco trip and dismisses opposition saying;
“The Garden Bridge is ringed with demented enemies, who do not want to see something beautiful established in the center of London.”
9 February 2016: One of those “demented enemies” is Jane Duncan, the President of the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects [RIBA] who intervenes in the controversy and tells the Architect’s Journal;
“The allegations relating to the procurement of the Garden Bridge are extremely concerning. All those who bid for work have a right to expect that their submissions will be judged fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law. Given the high profile nature of this project, the amount of public money at stake and the seriousness of the allegations, we would urge that the project is put on hold and the whole procurement process is then opened up to detailed scrutiny.”
9 February 2016: The man who had overseen the procurement of the Garden Bridge for TfL, Richard De Cani, and deputy Mayor for Transport Isobel Dedring announce they are leaving City Hall to join Garden Bridge consulting engineers Arups.
This is a complete coincidence.
10 February 2016: The London Assembly pass the following motion by 12 votes to 7.
“The Assembly notes the latest revelations about the procurement process for design services for a proposed pedestrian bridge linking South Bank to Temple.
The Assembly regrets that the Mayor has described his publicly funded trip to San Francisco in early February 2013 as merely a private trip. Furthermore, the Assembly expresses its concern that the Mayor was willing to attend meetings seeking sponsorship for one specific design when TfL had not even started the procurement process for the design of the bridge.
The Assembly urges the Mayor to fully comply with any outstanding and further inquiries by the GLA Oversight Committee and to ensure that all Mayoral Questions relating to the Garden Bridge are promptly answered.
The Assembly reiterates that there is no case for any TfL funding to be allocated to the Garden Bridge Trust and urges TfL to now enter into discussions to ensure that existing public money allocated to the project is fully recovered as quickly as possible.”
13 February 2016: Writing in the Guardian Ian Jack observes that while Lancashire is set to close five museums because it needs to slash spending on Museums from £1.3 million to £100k ;
“A sum of £60m, adjusted for inflation, would keep Lancashire’s museums open for nearly the next half century. Instead, thanks to the power of the chums, it will help finance an unwanted, unnecessary new ornament in London. I like London, but it isn’t hard to understand why so many other people hate the place.”
Meanwhile, while the Government and TfL have funded the Garden Bridge to the tune of £60 million, another London horticultural attraction, Kew Gardens, which also happens to undertake world class science, has had its funding slashed by £2 million per year, has cut 47 core science posts and faces an annual deficit of £5.5m.
16 February 2016: The independent charity Project Compass publish a report into the procurement of the Garden Bridge authored by procurement expert, Walter Monteth B.A.(Arch), Dip Arch (PSB), RIBA, FRIAS, RIBA. Mr Monteth concludes;
“Evidence appraised in this report provides indications to suggest that both the assessments for the Design Services Contract and the Temple Bridge consultant’s contract were neither transparent nor fair, and did not comply with the required principles.” and Mr Monteth suggests;
“…an independent investigation would be appropriate, before the public make any further commitment.”
15 March 2016: “The Garden Bridge is a reality,” declares Lord Davies, chair of the Garden Bridge trust as the Trust signs a joint venture construction contract with Bouygues Travaux Publics and Cimolai SpA.
Er, not yet.
The Garden Bridge is currently about as real as the carefully constructed computer graphics which somehow never show the projected peak crowd of 30,000 on a Saturday when the capacity of the bridge is 2,500.
On the same day Sir Simon Jenkins sums up the legacy of Mayor Johnson’s signature projects to London council tax payers, writing in his column in the Evening Standard;
“A mayor is probably best judged where he enjoys discretion, where he has the power to make a difference. Here Johnson has seemed consumed by vanity projects, actual or conjectural, from cycle lanes to estuary airports. The Orbit Olympic sculpture was to be a “corporate money-maker”, and loses half a million a year. The Docklands cable car was to be “at no cost to the taxpayer,” cost £25 million and loses a reported £6 million a year. The garden bridge, handsome but wrongly located, if it goes ahead will cost taxpayers £60 million. As for “Boris bikes”, Paris makes money out of its cycle scheme, while Johnson loses £11 million a year (or £1,400 per bike) on his.”
24 March 2016: Lambeth Council takes the decision to permit variations on the lease of Coin Street Community Builders [CSCB] who lease the area of the South Bank where the south landing of the Garden Bridge is to be built. During the planning consultation Lambeth Council received a total of 3594 separately signed objections. However a report to Councillors says that;
“The Council’s view is that the construction of the South Landing Building [of the Garden Bridge] is an unprecedented windfall opportunity because it will enable a new and valuable and, most importantly, permanent income stream to be generated, albeit that the overall area of land available for temporary promotional events will be significantly reduced.”
So that’s all right then…
Ultimately Lambeth Council’s decision was taken by a single Councillor, Cllr Jack Hopkins, the Cabinet Member for Jobs and Growth, who gave the go ahead for the lease on Lambeth’s land on the South Bank to be varied to allow the destruction of the current green space and allow the building of the south landing of the Garden Bridge.
However, that is still not the end of the process. The crucial parcel of land on the South Bank is currently leased by Coin Street Community Builders who must also agree the variation of the lease. Following Cllr Hopkin’s decision the group issued a statement to the effect that, while they do not want to usurp the planning function of the council;
“…we believe that we have both a right and duty to ensure that the scheme only goes ahead if we can be satisfied that the promised benefits are delivered for the community we serve and its impacts mitigated.”
Cllr Hopkins decision has also been “called in” by Councillors opposed to the bridge from the ruling Labour group as well as Conservatives and Greens opposed to the project. This has triggered a meeting of the Council’s oversight and scrutiny committee.
21 April 2016: The Architect’s Journal publish the results of further Freedom of Information Act requests including details of the meetings between Thomas Heatherwick, Joanna Lumley and TfL Officials in the run up to the issuing of the tender documents in March 2013.
Also published is Richard De Cani’s draft briefing note from December 2012 where he tells senior TfL officials that:
“The Mayor is extremely supportive of the need for additional footbridges across the Thames and is keen for TfL to support this [the Heatherwick/Lumley] proposal.’
21 April 2016: Lambeth Council Scrutiny and Oversight Committee uphold the decision to sign off on the change of use for land on the South Bank to allow the south landing of the Garden Bridge to be built by the narrowest of margins, five votes to four.
25 April 2016: Originally the Garden Bridge trust was required to have;
“…secured a satisfactory level of funding to operate and maintain the Garden Bridge for at least the first five years from its completion.”
However, two weeks before leaving office, London Mayor Boris Johnson lowers the threshold whereby the Garden Bridge will be supported by the Council Tax payers of London. His justification for what critics see as yet another “sweetheart deal” for the Garden Bridge Trust is a report by GLA head of governance and resilience Tom Middleton, which states that;
“…it is not realistic to expect the trust to have secured the income required for the first five years of maintenance … prior to construction of the bridge itself having commenced”.
“…as soon as this statement was issued the City Hall fire alarm was triggered as Mayor Boris Johnson’s underpants burst into flames.”
Meanwhile the clock is counting down to the Mayoral Election on 5 May. Both the most likely winners, Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Labour candidate Sadiq Khan are coming under pressure to state they will cancel the Garden Bridge from a vociferous campaign in the Social Media. However, up to the time of writing no such undertakings have been made. Indeed, Zac Goldsmith is on the record as supporting the Garden Bridge while, as reported above, Sadiq Khan reversed his previous opposition to the Garden Bridge, reportedly after a meeting with Garden Bridge “Governor” and owner of the Evening Standard, Evgeny Lebedev.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson has signed off on yet another decision which favours the Garden Bridge Trust, this time regarding the threshold whereby maintenance costs will be footed by the council tax payers of London.
However, Liberal Democrat Mayoral Candidate Caroline Pidgeon, has lived up to her combative performance over the Garden Bridge in the London Assembly. On 21 April 2016 she told the Architects Journal;
“This whole saga now really stinks. It appears that right from the very start of the process Boris Johnson has been breathing down the necks of TfL officers to get the bridge built at any price.’
She went on to call on TfL to cancel any contracts TfL have signed with the Garden Bridge Trust and undertake an urgent review of the procurement, if necessary involving the National Audit Office. She added;
‘Public money is not there to be spent on personal vanity projects. These revelations should sink the whole Garden Bridge project once and for all.”
Sadiq Khan, equivocated saying:
“I support the Garden Bridge but this is another worrying revelation about the bidding process. It is vital that we have full transparency on this project, given the public funds already committed.”
The Architects Journal report that Conservative Zac Goldsmith did not offer a response.
However, the Garden Bridge Trust did respond saying, “Nothing to do with us Guv”; sorry saying;
“The debate about procurement is a separate issue and does not involve the Garden Bridge Trust which was not set up at the time. The trust continues to make strong progress.”
This is of course absolutely true. However, what the Garden Bridge Trust neglects to say is that it only has a Garden Bridge project to govern because of what the Architects Journal and other researchers and campaigners have shown beyond doubt is a rigged procurement process, reeking of backstairs agreements within closed and unaccountable networks of politicians and bureaucrats, and favours done for friends.
Thomas Heatherwick did not comment to the Architects Journal either.
However, the Mayors Office maintain;
“The mayor is widely on the record as being in support of the construction of vital new river crossings over the Thames. And his decision to ask Transport for London to invite several worldclass designers to pitch for the design of a pedestrian footbridge on the South Bank showed no favour to Heatherwick Studio, it simply showed his desire to ensure the very best possible concept was found.
The procurement process was open, it was fair and it was transparent. A thorough audit of that process has been carried out and work is due to begin on the bridge this year. It will be a spectacular addition to the capital and is widely supported by Londoners and businesses on both sides of the river.”
There is no independent corroboration of the suggestion that as soon as this statement was issued the City Hall fire alarm was triggered as Mayor Boris Johnson’s underpants burst into flames.
“the Garden Bridge is emblematic of the Chumocracy which operates at the top of David Cameron’s Government.”
Perhaps the lesson so far of the Garden Bridge saga is that in modern politics, with careers and party whips to worry about, not to mention hostile media barons and tame lawyers hovering ready to stick the boot in if you say anything out of line, it is always safer to let someone else stand up and shout that the Emperor has no clothes on [and that the Garden Bridge is patronising, self indulgent, greenwash, which was procured by a dodgy process, overseen by a social and political network of the rich and famous].
In other words that the Garden Bridge is emblematic of the Chumocracy which operates at the top of David Cameron’s Government.
However, if London’s newly elected Mayor and politicians do intend to intervene they had better do so quickly. Once Mr Heatherwick’s copper planters are in place, making or giving a speech or address will be one of the thirty activities which are banned on the Bridge thanks to its status as “private land”.
On the bright side, if the Garden Bridge is built, while blocking historic views of the Thames and with tourist tailbacks causing congestion on an already narrow part of the Thames footpath, it will at least provide a use for the Boris Johnson Memorial Wasserwerfer. They can be used to water the plants.
The Garden Bridge Trust could also park one in the middle of the Bridge so that the Private Security staff employed by the Garden Bridge Trust can deal with any group of eight or more family and friends who decide stop for a picnic under the rhododendrons.
RESULT for London Council Tax payers!