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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Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.