Garden Bridge unlikely to raise enough private funding to protect the taxpayer, says official review

This bloody thing again. Image: Heatherwick.

Another month, another nail in the coffin of Boris Johnson’s last vanity project for London.

This week it’s Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking and former chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who is calling for the Garden Bridge to be stopped. Dame Margaret was asked to review the scheme by Bozza’s replacement as London mayor, Sadiq Khan, last September, in which looked suspiciously like a step towards the long grass.

And would you believe it? Her report has found that n large but uncertain share of the cost looks likely to fall on the taxpayer, rather than the private backers we’d all been promised. She concludes that the whole thing should be halted until the promised finance materialises.

Here’s are some extracts from her report, annotated with my headlines.

The taxpayer contribution keeps on creeping upwards...

The original ambition to fund the Garden Bridge solely through private finance has been abandoned. Furthermore the goalposts have moved several times and each time the risks to the taxpayer have intensified.

As does the price...

Looking to the future, the costs of construction have escalated and are likely to increase further. What started life as a project costing an estimated £60 million is likely to end up costing over £200 million.

Those private investors are nowhere to be seen...

At the same time the Garden Bridge Trust has lost two major donors and has only secured £69 million in private funding pledges, leaving a gap of at least £70 million that needs to be raised for the capital investment. No new pledges have been obtained since August 2016.

And that ain’t likely to change....

At the same time I am sceptical that the Garden Bridge Trust will succeed in raising all the private capital monies required and I am firmly of the view that more public money will be needed to complete the construction....

...because not everyone in London is Joanna bloody Lumley...

The project has become very controversial with the public. If the Garden Bridge is not treasured by the public in the same way that it is by its creators, then the business model, based on raising private finance is far less likely to succeed. Philanthropists will be cautious about associating themselves with the project.

Last but not least...

I do not believe the Trust will secure the philanthropic support it needs to fund the ongoing management and maintenance of the Garden Bridge.

This last bit sounds dull but is, in some ways, the real kicker. Raising investment to build the thing is in some ways the easy bit: rich people like being able to point to a thing and think “I did that”. Persuading people to stump up so that someone can clean it and stop bits falling off is rather harder.

While we’re at it, there’s a moral hazard problem with getting private interests to fund the bridge now the state is involved. If the bridge isn’t happening unless investors stump up, and investors really want it to happen, then, well, they’ll have to stump up. But if it becomes clear that the state will plug the shortfall, what incentive is there for investors to get involved at all?

Dame Margaret’s conclusion is, basically, the whole thing should stop, until the private investment arrives:

“It would be better for the taxpayer to accept the financial loss of cancelling the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional costs to the public purse if the project proceeds.... I would urge the Mayor not to sign any guarantees until it is confirmed that the private capital and revenue monies have been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust.”

In other words, it’s better to accept that the £60m the taxpayer has already spent on the bridge was a total waste of money than to keep chucking money at it indefinitely.

The Garden Bridge Trust, quite naturally, disagrees. It replied with the following, pleasingly bitchy statement:

“We are pleased that Dame Margaret has finally published her report after six months of uncertainty.” 

“We will be studying the report in detail and seeking a meeting with the Mayor of London to discuss next steps.  The Trust remains as determined as ever to make the Garden Bridge happen which will bring huge benefits to London and the UK.”

See that? They’re as “determined as ever”. Well, for my part, I remain determined as ever to become a handsome billionnaire.


So is it dead? Is it finally, actually dead? Well, no, not yet. But it’s not looking very well.

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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These maps of petition signatories show which bits of the country are most enthusiastic about scrapping Brexit

The Scottish bit. Image: UK Parliament.

As anyone in the UK who has been near an internet connection today will no doubt know, there’s a petition on Parliament’s website doing the rounds. It rejects Theresa May’s claim – inevitably, and tediously, repeated again last night – that Brexit is the will of the people, and calls on the government to end the current crisis by revoking Article 50. At time of writing it’s had 1,068,554 signatures, but by the time you read this it will definitely have had quite a lot more.

It is depressingly unlikely to do what it sets out to do, of course: the Prime Minister is not in listening mode, and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has already been seen snarking that as soon as it gets 17.4m votes, the same number that voted Leave in 2016, the government will be sure to give it due care and attention.

So let’s not worry about whether or not the petition will be successful and instead look at some maps.

This one shows the proportion of voters in each constituency who have so far signed the petition: darker colours means higher percentages. The darkest constituencies tend to be smaller, because they’re urban areas with a higher population density.

And it’s clear the petition is most popular in, well, exactly the sort of constituencies that voted for Remain three years ago: Cambridge (5.1 per cent), Bristol West (5.6 per cent), Brighton Pavilion (5.7 per cent) and so on. Hilariously, Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North is also at 5.1 per cent, the highest in London, despite its MP clearly having remarkably little interest in revoking article 50.

By the same token, the sort of constituencies that aren’t signing this thing are – sit down, this may come as a shock – the sort of places that tended to vote Leave in 2016. Staying with the London area, the constituencies of the Essex fringe (Ilford South, Hornchurch & Upminster, Romford) are struggling to break 1 per cent, and some (Dagenham & Rainham) have yet to manage half that. You can see similar figures out west by Heathrow.

And you can see the same pattern in the rest of the country too: urban and university constituencies signing in droves, suburban and town ones not bothering. The only surprise here is that rural ones generally seem to be somewhere in between.

The blue bit means my mouse was hovering over that constituency when I did the screenshot, but I can’t be arsed to redo.

One odd exception to this pattern is the West Midlands, where even in the urban core nobody seems that bothered. No idea, frankly, but interesting, in its way:

Late last year another Brexit-based petition took off, this one in favour of No Deal. It’s still going, at time of writing, albeit only a third the size of the Revoke Article 50 one and growing much more slowly.

So how does that look on the map? Like this:

Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of an inversion of the new one: No Deal is most popular in suburban and rural constituencies, while urban and university seats don’t much fancy it. You can see that most clearly by zooming in on London again:

Those outer east London constituencies in which people don’t want to revoke Article 50? They are, comparatively speaking, mad for No Deal Brexit.

The word “comparatively” is important here: far fewer people have signed the No Deal one, so even in those Brexit-y Essex fringe constituencies, the actual number of people signing it is pretty similar the number saying Revoke. But nonetheless, what these two maps suggest to me is that the new political geography revealed by the referendum is still largely with us.


In the 20 minutes it’s taken me to write this, the number of signatures on the Revoke Article 50 has risen to 1,088,822, by the way. Will of the people my arse.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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