The Garden Bridge is innovative and like many, I see its attraction, appeal and vision. It is creative and showcases British talent in architecture and design. But it mustn’t come at any price.
When high-profile figures in politics and culture join forces to back a project, it often leads to a loss of sight on costs; pragmatism and necessity for a scheme giving way to waves of sentiment and emotion. This was beginning to become the story of the Garden Bridge.
From the outset I was clear that no funding would come from Lambeth towards the cost of its construction. We simply couldn’t afford to. In the period from when the Bridge was conceived to the present day, London’s boroughs have had their funding cut by 44 per cent in real terms. We are about to start looking at our budget for the next two years and it is going to be very challenging but we will deal with it sensibly and by putting our residents first.
We were also clear that the Transport for London (TfL) contribution towards the Bridge was unjustified. We made this point at the outset of the project and we made it again in May when the outcome of the general election saw local government enter a permanent cycle of austerity. However, public funds, in this case TfL’s already stretched budget, were being raided to subsidise the construction of the Bridge. This at a time when the Met Police, which the Mayor presides over, is warning that every police community support officer in London is likely to be scrapped because of Government funding cuts in the forthcoming Spending Review.
I am pleased therefore we have reached a deal on the Garden Bridge’s funding package. It means £20m of Transport for London’s £30m contribution will be paid back – legally capping TfL’s funding at £10m. It is still £10m too much in my view, but we negotiated hard to get a fairer deal for London taxpayers. Taking into account the amount of money that has already been spent, this was the best possible deal we could have reached.
You can read more about it here.
The deal we’ve reached also means the Garden Bridge Trust needs to reduce the overall costs of the project and raise more private investment to fund its construction and maintenance. I am pleased that they responded to our challenge and took a hard look at the costs.
The Mayor too has changed his mind. At his regular question time in City Hall last month, he conceded that more private money should be used to fund the Bridge.
Meanwhile Sadiq Khan, has pledged to use public money in a way which is ‘more beneficial to London’s economy, and which brings more improvements to our environment and cultural heritage’.
This is the type of Mayor we need in City Hall – someone who understands that taxpayers’ cash can’t be managed in a cavalier fashion. A full-time Mayor who has the concentration and drive to see projects to completion that deliver for the economy. And a collaborative Mayor, who will ensure London’s boroughs are given a central role in planning London’s infrastructure not just for the next 20 years but for the next 50.
Councillor Lib Peck
Leader of Lambeth Council