Is Sadiq Khan cancelling the Garden Bridge by stealth?

Here we go again. Image: Heatherwick Studios.

Could this be it? Could it finally be happening? Could the biggest debate in Greater London politics – “Should we spend a small fortune building a bridge next to an existing bridge?” – really be about to come to its conclusion?

Anything’s possible. From this week’s Architect’s Journal:

London’s new mayor has effectively suspended work on the Garden Bridge because of concerns that an enabling project at Temple Tube station will lead to more public money being spent on the £175m project.

Transport for London’s (TfL) finance and policy committee had on Friday (8 July) been due to rubber-stamp £3m of London Underground spending on strengthening the station’s structure to withstand the weight of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed bridge on its roof.

But Sadiq Khan has now ordered the work – by engineer Flint & Neil, and approved by his predecessor Boris Johnson two months before May’s mayoral election – to be halted because of his commitment not to spend any more taxpayers’ money on the bridge.

At first glance this seems a bit odd because, a mere six weeks ago, Khan was arguing that the Garden Bridge should absolutely, definitely go ahead.

His argument was that so much had been spent on it already (taxpayer contribution to date: £37.7m) that it would effectively now cost more to cancel it than it would if we finished it, thus enabling it to start making money and repaying some of its loans (final projected taxpayer contribution: £18m).

So has he u-turned? Well, it’s possible. He already has form, and a certain flexibility on matters of policy increasingly looks like Khan’s defining ideology.

But of course, he hasn’t actually scrapped the Bridge at all – he’s doing something altogether more subtle. Here’s a mayoral spokesman quoted in that AJ article:

Sadiq Khan has been clear that no new public funds should be committed to the Garden Bridge, and he has pledged to make the project more open and transparent – standards that were not always met under the previous administration.

So, no, Khan hasn’t scrapped the Bridge – he’s just requiring it to live within its means. After all, the Garden Bridge Trust has told us repeatedly that there’s a robust financial case for the Bridge: so getting it built without dipping into the public purse yet again should be easy, right?


In other words: either the Garden Bridge happens, without Sadiq Khan committing another penny, and he’ll be able to take the credit (just as Boris Johnson took the credit for Ken Livingstone’s cycle hire scheme); or the Garden Bridge doesn’t happen, and it’ll be because the previous administration mucked up the finances.

Either way, Khan wins, and he doesn’t have to be the mean-spirited mayor who cancelled something beautiful.

He’ll go far, that boy.

Incidentally – wondering why a new Bridge would require us to spend £3m on rebuilding a tube station? Because the northern end of it will look like this:

Image: Heatherwick Studios.

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.