Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, has withdrawn support for a controversial charity project to build a Garden Bridge across the river Thames, meaning it is now unlikely to be able to proceed.
In a letter to the chair of the charity today, Khan said that he is unable to provide the requested mayorial guarantees, which would be needed to begin building without having the full funding in place.
Khan said he had made the decision because he did not believe the trust would be able to raise the money before planning permission runs out at the end of this year and that if the project progresses it would “would expose the London taxpayer to additional financial risk, both with regard to the bridge’s construction and its maintenance”.
So far the project has cost £37m of public money and scrapping it would bring the cost to £46m, according to a recent inquiry led by Dame Margaret Hodge on behalf of the mayor.
‘Lack of support for the project’
Khan said the fact that the charity has secured less than half the money needed in pledges means that there is a “risk of further pledges being lost”.
He added: “Pledged funds being lower than two years ago strongly suggests that support for he project is not robust enough to generate the required funds.”
The charity has previously suggested that if it began building the bridge, this would help fundraising. However, Khan said this could mean London finding itself with a partially built bridge, which would need to be completed or demolished at a cost to the Greater London Authority or Transport for London.
In response, the trust said that Hodge had “shown disregard for the facts” and been “selective” about what she had included in the report.
The trust has the backing of some high-profile supporters. Its board of trustees is chaired by Lord Mervyn Davies and includes Joanna Lumley, while it has also been championed by Boris Johnson and George Osborne.
However, it has been repeatedly criticised over funding shortfalls and delays.
Last autumn the Public Accounts Committee condemned the decision to award the charity £60m of government money.
The trust had been awarded £30m from central government and £30m from Transport for London, under former mayor of London Boris Johnson.
Some of the funding had only been awarded after the then transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin overrode concerns from civil servants, prompting the Department of Transport's accounting officer Philip Rutnam to instist upon the issuing of ministerial direction before he would release the funding.
The Trust's accounts for the 17 months to March 2016 highlighted a number of challenges, and the auditors included an “emphasis of matter” to draw particular attention to whether the charity was a going concern. However the accounts were not qualified.
The Charity Commission carried out a compliance case but concluded that the trust was compliant with charity law.
Civil Society News has contacted the charity for its response to these latest developments.