The long, sorry tale of the Garden Bridge has finally come to an end, as the trustees announced the cancellation of the project.
It was, weird, really, the whole Garden Bridge ‘thing’, or as others might term it, ‘fiasco.’ It all seemed to start because, like so many other multi-million pound projects, Joanna Lumley thought it would be a good idea. (I think we all remember when Jennifer Saunders came up with the idea for the London Eye.)
Whereas my personal dream of converting Trafalgar Square’s fountains into bubbling, cheesy fondue stations languished in obscurity, Lumley happened to have Boris Johnson in a WhatsApp group or something, so it was off to the races. Hooray?
But before long, the idea, which on one hand sounded quite nice, but on the other hand was arguably a bit of a waste of money, managed to inflame Londoners’ passions to the extent only usually seen when TfL announce a modest improvement to cycling infrastructure.
As the project wore on, a drip-drip-drip of bad news on funding, and procurement, and ‘how-public-will-this-bridge-actually-be’ began to tarnish the glittering copper-clad artist’s impression, despite a limitless well of enthusiasm from the Evening Standard’s comment page. And a lot of Londoners started to feel like City Metric’s John Elledge, with a sense it could be both ‘a lovely addition to the fabric of the city’ but also somehow a ‘symbol of everything wrong with modern London.’
In April this year, the situation came to a head when an inquiry by Margaret Hodge MP issued a damning report, saying that ‘what started life as a project costing an estimated £60million is likely to end up costing over £200 million’, the contracts awarded revealed ‘systemic failures’ and were not ‘open, fair or competitive’, and that it was is ‘difficult to justify further public investment in the Garden Bridge.’ (The Garden Bridge trust chairman called the report ‘biased’ and ‘one-sided.’)
That was enough for new mayor Sadiq Khan to decide tghat no more taxpayer funds would be available to underwrite the construction or operation of the bridge. Today, he said:
“I have been clear since before I became Mayor that no more London taxpayers’ money should be spent on this project and when I took office I gave the Garden Bridge Trust time to try and address the multiple serious issues with it.
Londoners will, like me, be very angry that London taxpayers have now lost tens of millions of pounds – committed by the previous Mayor on a project that has amounted to nothing.”
The withdrawal of extra public funds was, ultimately, enough to cause the entire project to be abandoned. Today, announcing the cancellation, the trustees issued a rather cross letter to the Mayor about how fucking awesome the bridge would have been:
“It would have been a showcase for the best of British talent, sending a message to the world that London and the UK still lead the way in creativity, ambition and innovation – and, of course, that London is open.
Regrettably, declining to lend your sufficient support to the many others already aboard for this landmark project sends a quite different message.”
Anyway, the long and short of it is that, we’ve spent £37 million on a bridge that is never going to exist. The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright believes it ought to be repaid, but if you think that’s going to happen, well – I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Anyone for a fondue fountain?