Hodge report was 'skewed', says Garden Bridge boss

Hamish Champ and David Rogers

Mervyn Davies accuses MP of mainly speaking to opponents of project

The head of the Garden Bridge Trust has blasted Margaret Hodge‘s highly critical report on the project, claiming that she mainly spoke to opponents of the embattled scheme when putting it together.

Stopping short of accusing her of bias, nonetheless Mervyn Davies (pictured) accused Hodge of being “selective” in whom she spoke to after being commissioned last October by London mayor Sadiq Khan to review the scheme.

The Trust said Hodge “has engaged with a very selective – largely opponent – audience” and Davies added: “It is a shame that Dame Margaret has shown disregard for the facts and been selective in her use of evidence to support her own opinions.”

He said: “[The bridge’s future] is now in the hands of the Mayor. Our message to him is that this report, with its many errors and ill-informed opinions, is no basis upon which to take decisions about a project that has been through the complex democratic processes by which decisions on development are made in this city.”

In a four page letter to Hodge and the mayor, Davies – a former trade minister in Gordon Brown’s Labour government – accuses Hodge of being “discourteous” and says the Trust was given no warning Hodge’s report would be coming out last Friday (April 7).

He said: “This put the Trust in a position by which we were unable to provide timely briefing of our funders and key stakeholders. You will understand the importance of our relationships with such critical supporters of the project and, for someone with your extensive experience in the public sphere, I find the lack of respect and disregard for the impact of your findings unacceptable.”

Davies said the trust “cannot accept [Hodge’s] recommendation” that the project be scrapped, adding that “as the mayor has said consistently, ‘the taxpayer will be better off if the bridge is built’”.

He wrote that he believed her conclusion that the project be axed was “based almost entirely on your own opinion and the word of others who have expressed a view, rather than on the word of those with technical expertise in this field”.

And he pointed to a survey which had found “over three quarters of Londoners support the bridge being built”, which he claimed Hodge ignored, along with the views of the bridge’s supporters and pledged donors.

The Trust also claimed that Hodge did not meet any of the existing funders and added: “Her suggestion that the fact certain pledges are anonymous ‘significantly contributes to the fragility of the commitments’ is unsubstantiated and incorrect.

“In fact, one of our most loyal supporters, who has underwritten our operational costs, is anonymous and wishes to remain so indefinitely. It is perfectly normal in the philanthropy and charity sectors for funders to stipulate anonymity for a variety of different reasons, including the desire to support a project away from the spotlight.”

Hodge, who has commented on Davies’ criticisms (see below), said in her 45 page report last week the plug should be pulled on a scheme which has already used up more than £37 million of public money.

She said: “I believe it is better for the taxpayer to accept the loss than to risk the additional demands if the project proceeds. In the present climate, with continuing pressures on public spending, it is difficult to justify further public investment in the Garden Bridge.”

Hodge said the cost of the scheme, originally budgeted at £60 million, was now likely to be in excess of £200 million and said the bridge, which has been designed by Heatherwick Studio, has a funding gap of £70 million with no new pledges from private donors since last August.

 

Hodge responds

I have written, published and submitted my report to the Mayor of London.

Clearly people will want to comment on the report and I did not expect the Garden Bridge Trust to support the conclusions I came to. I conducted an extensive inquiry and the conclusions I reached are grounded in that evidence. My review has found that too many things went wrong in the development and implementation of the Garden Bridge Project. Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured and 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.

My report outlines some key lessons that can be learned from the Garden Bridge project across different public organisations and makes a number of recommendations. It is now up to the Mayor of London to take a view.

 

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