The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has used his first Mayor’s Question Time to lay bare the finances of the Garden Bridge.
Sadiq Khan said it would cost taxpayers more than twice as much to cancel the project now, as it would to complete it and build the new bridge.
TfL and the Government have previously committed £30 million each to the Garden Bridge Trust’s £175m project – with the remainder raised through private donations. Of the £30 million pledged by TfL, £20 million is in the form of a loan to be repaid in full.
Sadiq Khan revealed that of the £60 million total of taxpayers money pledged, £37.7 million has already been spent by the Garden Bridge Trust. If the project was scrapped now, this amount would be lost in full with no benefit at all for Londoners or taxpayers.
However, if the Garden Bridge is completed, not only will TfL be repaid its £20 million loan by the Garden Bridge Trust, but they will also pay approximately £22 million in VAT to the Treasury. That means the ultimate bill to taxpayers for completing the bridge will be £18 million – less than half the cost of cancelling the project now.
On this understanding, Sadiq Khan has given his support to the completion of the Garden Bridge but has demanded that it is made more accessible for all Londoners in return. Last week he called on the Garden Bridge Trust to ensure:
The Bridge to be closed for fewer days each year for private fundraising events – the current plans are for 12 closures a year.
The Bridge to be closed for fewer hours each time it has to close for fundraising events, so that the Bridge can still be used in the morning and evenings – the current plans are for it to be closed from midnight to midnight.
A guarantee that children at local schools on either side of the river will get to visit the Garden Bridge and be involved in planting and maintenance – with a rolling programme of events for local school children.
The Garden Bridge Trust to build a strong working relationship with all of London’s parks, so that seeds and plants grown on the Garden Bridge can then be replanted in parks across the capital – ensuring it has a positive benefit for all Londoners.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said “From the point at which I became Mayor, it was quite clearly in London taxpayers’ financial interest to complete the Garden Bridge project. It would simply cost Londoners more to cancel the project now, than it would to finish building the Garden Bridge.
“If the Bridge was cancelled now taxpayers will have spent £37.7 million for no benefit at all. However if we complete the project and our loan is repaid in full then the ultimate cost to taxpayers will be under half that cost at £18 million.
“So I will support the building of the Garden Bridge, but I am demanding that the project is made more accessible and open to all Londoners in return.
“I expect the Garden Bridge Trust to ensure that the Bridge be closed fewer days each year for private fundraising events and fewer hours when they do. I also want a guarantee that an ongoing programme of visits will be laid on for local school children.”
This announcement comes after the recent realisation that this is becoming a steadily more unpopular project: 61% of Londoners are against it in the biggest poll so far, which has been running in the Evening Standard for the last month, with over 4,000 participants. Whatever your opinion on the project is, it is certainly a bridge over troubled water!