How did a bridge nobody asked for, festooned with shrubbery, get cancelled losing millions of pounds of public money, including Scotland’s taxes?
It’s Scotland’s money, stupid!
Scotland’s Queensferry Crossing, built on time and on budget, funded entirely from Scottish sources, attracted a torrent of scorn from the right-wing British press and politicians, probably because it isn’t British. On the Garden Bridge they are silent.
Brits took over £140 million of Scotland’s Lottery Fund to subsidise the financially faltering London Olympics leaving Scotland’s sporting facilities lost for investment for another decade or more, not a penny repaid. They took a ton more for the inflated Dome fiasco, a High Speed Train to nowhere, costs escalating faster than it will speed, more taxes earmarked to refurbish Buckingham Palace, and a few billion to modernise the rot that is the Houses of Parliament. And we live in a nation of food banks.
Brexit too will cost the UK a sum akin to a small state’s GNP. Scotland’s taxes are channelled to match London taxes awarded to specific projects on a pound for pound basis. So, yes, Scotland helped pay for this fiasco and we never had a vote in it!
Sting like a banker
The ghastly bridge began life as a free gift to the people of London financed privately, but that fell through pretty quickly. £60 million was allocated from the UK public purse, with punitive cancellation costs of £10 million. Now dead as a Dodo, an alleged £47.5 million pounds has disappeared faster than crow’s feet on a celebrity’s face.
Lord Mervyn Davies, Baron Davies of Abersoch, chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, a former banker nosing raw cash, swung his incense burner faster than a cowboy lassoing a steer. “In post-Brexit Britain, [the garden bridge] will be a huge boost to London and the country,” he wrote. Would that he were more specific. “Country’ is 99.5% of the UK.
The usual green fingered suspects
There are three culprits; a man who thinks he’s an architect but is not, a mop-haired Etonian who thinks he’s a politician but is not, and an actress who thinks she’s a national treasure but is not. The first has a Dickensian name, Thomas Heatherwick, the second is out of a Dickensian novel, Boris Johnson, and the third is and actress out of her depth, Joanna Lumley.
The bridge was ‘sold’ as a pedestrianised rural retreat for tourists and office workers, assuming the latter had the time to visit it during one hour lunch breaks. Those that walked its length would presumably have to walk back again, having seen its 270 trees twice. Cyclists were mad they had no access; so, we can be sure a cycle way would appear sooner or later to upset walkers. A private space masquerading as a public space.
Hud oan tha noo – it disnae compute!
Study the proposal and the bridge’s flaws become apparent. It needs stout supports to carry the load of the landscape before coping with green-fingered masses. Supports would then have to be embedded deeper than normal, and moved apart, the span raised in order to achieve the required navigation clearance.
As eminent architect and engineer and opponent of the project, Ian Ritchie, states,
“To give it an aesthetic appeal, cupronickel cladding panels are added, and these, I understand, were being sponsored with £10m from Glencore PLC, a multinational commodity trading and mining company with a dubious reputation”.
The Heatherwick Chronicles
All those warnings were ignored by the GB Trust, but particularly by its chief proponent, Thomas Heatherwick, supported by the bluff and bluster of Boris Johnson, the previous London mayor prior to Khan.
Heatherwick is not and never was a qualified architect nor engineer. He studied three-dimensional design, (applied to commercial products) at Manchester Polytechnic and then the Royal College of Art. Mentored by Terence Conran, he founded the Heatherwick Studio in 1994, and one presumes, spent a lot of time ingratiating himself with as many powerful and well-connected individuals as would share a good French wine.
Like Johnson, Heatherwick has a litany of expensive failures to his name: the sauna sweltering Routemaster bus designed specifically for London; the Olympic Cauldron, a series of petals locking together to form a fiery flower, dismantled, given to each nation that took part, subsequently stored in cupboards. Accusations of plagiarism were settled out of court. Finally, to keep the list short, there is B-of-the-Bang, a £1.42 million 56m-high sculpture of 180 giant steel spikes, unveiled outside the City of Manchester’s Stadium in 2005 taken down when spikes fell out of it, a danger to the public.
From Margaret Hodge’s Report on the bridge’s viability:
“Thomas Heatherwick told me his practice had earned £2,601,438 from the two contracts by the end of November 2016, and expected to earn £2,736,338.” Hodge added, “The procurement process was grossly opaque and flawed; there was no business plan. When it belatedly appeared it didn’t make sense”.
Heatherwick relied heavily, as did the Trust’s chairman, Davies, on accident prone and spendthrift Boris Johnson remaining mayor to help slip them public money and give the project the green light. Once Johnson left his post for Tory stardom Heatherwick and his cronies were left vulnerable to attack … which duly has taken place.
The Wrath of Khan
Khan – the politician who on a day’s visit to Scotland, likened the SNP to the Waffen SS – kept quiet when the Bridge appeared to have popular support though everybody with any expertise warned it was a money pit. Final he saw the light and withdrew.
Lumley, better known for the BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, and hundreds of voice-overs for television commercials, devised the proposal, winning support from Boris Johnson, and the then chancellor, George Osborne. (Cosy company, or what?) In fact, there was an exhibition in 1996 that showed two ‘living’ bridge ideas, so Ms Lumley’s vision is not original. It remains to be seen how much she was paid to promote the project, her public appearances, and her attendance at meetings.
Tens of millions of public money missing. Where has it gone?
Final figures show £21.4 million to the French-based contractors Bouygues. Has it all been spent, or is there a tranche still in existence that can and must be paid back? A handful of donations will be paid back because they had conditions attached to them. The public won’t get a penny.
Heatherwick should pay back up-front fees for a project that had no guarantee of a green light, his CBE taken off him. Either that or emigrate.
And nobody goes to jail
Loss of up to £53 million issuing from London’s unbuilt folly, the Garden Bridge, “risks underming public trust in charities” says the Charity Commission with all the studied understatement they can muster. The Commission is not going to investigate the scandal, the institution established to govern ethics and behaviour in the charity sector.
Nobody will ask Boris Johnson to explain why he over-rode public tendering and procurement processes at City Hall and wasted over £40m of public money on a vanity project that never had any chance of actually getting built. Corrupt? The ‘Ayes’ have it!