The Garden Bridge Trust has come in for more criticism after BBC Newsnight revealed that its funding shortfall is £22m more than previously thought.
Delays have also meant that the completion date has been pushed back by one year to 2019 and that the overall cost of the project has risen to £185m. This has prompted the charity to call on the Department for Transport to extend the underwriting of the project.
Last night Newsnight said it had analysed public statements made by the trust, as well as asking it further questions, and found that the “several funders have pulled out in the last year”.
The estimated cost of the bridge had been £175m and the trust had received £60m in public funding, leaving it £115m to raise from private individuals. Previously the funding shortfall had been around £30m but Newsnight said that it understood that a number of donors had pulled out, meaning the shortfall had risen to £52m.
Lord Mervyn Davies, chair of the trust, told Newsnight that he is confident that the charity will be able to raise the money it needs. He said that 38 committed sponsors had raised “nearly £70m” so far and that there was a “strong pipeline”.
He added that the charity’s running costs were being covered by a private individual. He admitted that some backers had pulled out and said that in one case this was down to a change in chief executive at a company.
Newsnight raised concerns about the anonymity of some of the donors. But Davies said that “there are no conflicts of interest” and “some will only announce their inclusion when the building work starts”. He added that it is not unusual for philanthropists to “want their name to be out of the limelight”.
The Charity Commission opened an operational compliance case into charity in July and the National Audit Office is also looking at concerns about its spending.
The charity has also postponed the filing of its next full set of annual accounts by five months. It says this is to bring it in line with most other organisations.
Plea for government support
This morning the trust issued a press release calling on the government to continue to support the project and admitted that it needs to raise a further £55.9m - more than the figure uncovered by Newsnight.
The charity confirmed that the cost for the project had risen to £185m and urged the government to make a decision on extending the government’s £15m underwriting of the project by one year to September 2017.
It said that “hold-ups in land negotiations and planning matters” were responsible for the rise in cost.
Davies said: “This project is majority privately funded so this unique London landmark will be delivered with great value to the taxpayer.
“The Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL) have been valuable supporters and partners from the very beginning. They provided funding because of the clear public transport case for the Bridge, without which we would not have got the project off the ground. This funding has helped kick start the public funding drive.
“Now is a crucial time for the Garden Bridge. We have faced considerable challenges but we are now on the brink of building a truly unique crossing. It would be a tragedy if the government withdrew their support now.
“The decision now rests with the DfT to extend the underwriting. We are not asking for more public money but we do need the government’s renewed backing.”