How has the Garden Bridge cost £37.7m already? Here's a breakdown

Still, it looks lovely. Image: Heatherwick Studios.

A few weeks back, we reported that London’s newly elected mayor Sadiq Khan had decided to go ahead with the controversial Garden Bridge project.

The reason he gave was that the project was so far advanced that the taxpayer had already spent £37.7m, much of which would be recouped if the Bridge was completed. Consequently, it'd cost twice as much to cancel the project as to finish it.

This raised many questions, but perhaps the biggest was – how on earth has anyone managed to spend £37.7m already?

Well, now we know. Earlier today a statement from the Garden Bridge Trust, the charity promoting the scheme, popped into my inbox, outlining the money spent so far. (We've included the lot, in the name of completeness, but highlighted the key points so you can skim read.)

Costs are as follows:

1. Pre-planning (up to the point at which the Garden Bridge Trust took control of the project from TfL) – design, preparation of planning application materials by specialist technical consultants, public consultations. £9.7m (27 per cent).

2. Pre-construction activities – progressing the design; obtaining licenses, permits and planning approvals (including stakeholder and community consultation) for detailed plans, for example the Construction Logistics Plan, Code of Construction Practice, operations and security plans.  Other activities include selection and tagging of trees and plants, river survey and ground investigation works, procurement of the construction and landscaping contractors, procuring and placing orders for materials.   £22.7m (63 per cent).

3. Professional services – legal, property & planning advice. £3.4m (10 per cent).

That doesn’t quite add up to £37.7m, so there’s also this bit:

Of the £36.4m received, the total cost of public funding spent so far is just under £36m. This excludes £1.3m of liability. This was a figure allocated for costs incurred if the project was stopped for any reason.

It was part of the figure released by the mayor at mayor’s Question Time two weeks ago, and is funding that has been allocated but remains unspent.

So to sum up, that's £9.7m on pre-planning before the GBT was set up, and £3.4m on assorted professional services, but the lion's share of the costs –  £22.7m – is the detailed plan to make the thing happen.

Oh, and there's some money that hasn't been spent, but will be – "if the project is stopped for any reason".

Major infrastructure is expensive, for all sorts of reasons. And while it's easy to sneer at the idea you could spend £37m without actually building anything, getting to the point where you can build something costs a lot of money.

As a layman, though, it's difficult to know what kind of figure is reasonable. So I forwarded the press release to a consultant who works on major urban projects. They were sceptical that the programme described would cost nearly £38m:

I was involved in a £125m project and the absolute maximum that we were allowed to spend before virtually everything was signed off (land, planning, funding, internal approvals, etc.) was £8m.  And that wasn't an organisation known for its financial restraint.

The consultant was particularly bemused about this bit:

Other activities include selection and tagging of trees and plants, river survey and ground investigation works, procurement of the construction and landscaping contractors, procuring and placing orders for materials. 

Spending money on contractors and supply chain – before a project is definitely going ahead – locks in yet more spending. That’s why there’s money set aside to be used “if the project is stopped for any reason”. Our consultant concluded:

In truth, they have not discharged all of their planning conditions, they don't own the land yet, and they don't have all the funding. They never should have been allowed to sign those contracts.

I put all this to the Garden Bridge Trust who, unsurprisingly, disagreed. Here's a spokesperson:

We've got planning permission from Westminster and Lambeth. There are a couple of things to be discharged, but they're very minor.

You don't just wave a wand and produce a bridge. You have to do very detailed work.

In other words, the bridge is going ahead, so it’s right and proper to spend the money.

The Garden Bridge, and the public money paying for much of it, is an issue that seems to get people fired up. This probably isn't the last time this debate will rear its head.


Still, national treasure Joanna Lumley is happy, that's the important thing.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.


Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.