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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London Overground is experimenting with telling passengers which bits of the next train is busiest

There must be a better way than this: Tokyo during a 1972 rail strike. Image: Getty.

One of the most fun things to do, for those who enjoy claustrophobia and other people’s body odour, is to attempt to use a mass transit system at rush hour.

Travelling on the Central line at 6pm, for example, gives you all sorts of exciting opportunities to share a single square inch of floor space with a fellow passenger, all the while becoming intimately familiar with any personal hygiene problems they may happen to have. On some, particularly lovely days you might find you don’t even get to do this for ages, but first have to spend some exciting time enjoying it as a spectator sport, before actually being able to pack yourself into one unoccupied cranny of a train.

But fear not! Transport for London has come up with a plan: telling passengers which bits of the train have the most space on them.

Here’s the science part. Many trains include automatic train weighing systems, which do exactly what the name suggests: monitoring the downward force on any individual wheel axis in real time. The data thus gathered is used mostly to optimise the braking.

But it also serves as a good proxy for how crowded a particular carriage is. All TfL are doing here is translating that into real time information visible to passengers. It’s using the standard, traffic light colour system: green means go, yellow means “hmm, maybe not”, red means “oh dear god, no, no, no”. 

All this will, hopefully, encourage some to move down the platform to where the train is less crowded, spreading the load and reducing the number of passengers who find themselves becoming overly familiar with a total stranger’s armpit.

The system is not unique, even in London: trains on the Thameslink route, a heavy-rail line which runs north/south across town (past CityMetric towers!) has a similar system visible to passengers on board. And so far it’s only a trial, at a single station, Shoreditch High Street.

But you can, if you’re so minded, watch the information update every few seconds or so here.

Can’t see why you would, but I can’t see why I would either, and that hasn’t stopped me spending much of the day watching it, so, knock yourselves out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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