Garden Bridge

MQT on 2015-03-25
Session date: 
March 25, 2015
Question By: 
John Biggs
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Do you intend to apologise to Londoners for misleading them about the garden bridge?


Answer for Garden Bridge

Answer for Garden Bridge

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I will direct my answer - thank you - to John.  We have to be absolutely clear about this.  The Garden Bridge is a great project for London.  It will be absolutely spectacular when it is complete.  We need to get it done at quite a lick because the Thames Tideway Tunnel is coming in in 2017.


In respect of the guarantees, there are in fact two theoretical guarantees in question.  One of them is unavoidable and one of them I do not propose any public money should be committed towards.  Let me explain what I am talking about.


The commitment that we have made is to fund the Garden Bridge to the tune of £30 million.  That is of a total budget of about £175 million and that is overwhelmingly being raised by charitable giving and by public donations because it is a project that excites a great deal of enthusiasm.


I have repeatedly made clear that I do not want us to be putting in any more than £30 million.  The Chancellor is effectively contributing £30 million.  He could have done it another way.  He could have waived the Value Added Tax (VAT), but he is not waiving the VAT and so effectively he is contributing £30 million to offset that.  We are determined not to pay more than £30 million.


In order to guarantee the bridge and in order to get the thing done at all, we have to show the relevant planning authorities - Westminster and Lambeth - that there is a plan for the long-term maintenance of the garden.  I do not think that the public sector should be paying for that.  That would be totally ludicrous.  The Garden Bridge Trust is well capable of raising the funds.


Therefore, what we have done in order to get the planning process moving along is to give a temporary undertaking to Westminster in the form of a letter from Fiona [Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Executive Director of Development and Environment, GLA] from the GLA that we will guarantee the maintenance until such time as the planning can be improved and until such time as the Garden Bridge Trust can satisfy us about their long-term plans to guarantee the maintenance.  I will not release that £30 million from TfL unless and until they have a satisfactory long-term plan to pay for the shrubberies or whatever it is.  The current bill for the annual maintenance costs is about £3.5 million.  That is the figure that has been plucked out of the air.  We think that is absurdly high.  If that really is going to be the cost, then they are going to need to work very hard to show us how they can guarantee it.


That is my first point.  That is the extent to which we have had to make a guarantee on the upkeep.  We will not release any funds at all until such time as they have counter-guaranteed and have shown that they can support the maintenance of the bridge.


The second guarantee ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  You are taking up an awful lot of time.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Forgive me.  The second guarantee relates to a catastrophic incident that might ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  You could have written this to me.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am sorry, but it is complex.


John Biggs AM:  Go on.  A catastrophic incident?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The second guarantee relates to a catastrophic incident that might befall the bridge if it were to be the subject of a terrorist attack or if a ship were to collide with it or whatever.  Then, inevitably, the cost of dealing with that would fall to the city.  There is no way around that.  It is simply a fact of life.  That is the case with every big infrastructure project.  There is no way any charity can provide a guarantee.  It is vanishingly unlikely, as you will appreciate, but we have to stand behind it to that extent.


John Biggs AM:  When you said, “I can confirm that no such agreement to cover the maintenance costs has been made and nor will I make any undertaking to do so” ‑‑


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  That is right.


John Biggs AM:  ‑‑ you were being dishonest with Londoners?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, I was not.


John Biggs AM:  Before you come back again, let us be clear.  You have spoken at enormous length already --


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, I was not because I have just made absolutely clear ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  With respect, you have spoken at great length already.  You have eaten up a large chunk of our time.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  If you do not like the answer, then ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  The fact is that the Planning Committee in Westminster has said that it needs an undertaking that there will be somebody there to secure the ongoing maintenance costs of the proposed bridge and your senior officer has given an undertaking that you will enter into a detailed agreement.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, I understand the point you are making, but that somebody will be the Garden Bridge Trust.  What we will not do ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  No, clearly not.  The only way they could do it would be if they had a £400 million endowment or something, which would help fund in perpetuity the costs.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, they will have to ‑‑


John Biggs AM:  You need to bear in mind that it is not just ‑‑


Valerie Shawcross CBE AM:  Can you intervene, please, Chairman?  Our Member is trying to ask a question and the Mayor, having spoken solidly for four-and-a-half minutes, is now talking over the top of our Member.  Can John please have a clear minute to get his point in?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  He will not let me answer.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  That is a fair point.  Mr Biggs, we would like to hear your question.


John Biggs AM:  OK.  There are two simple questions.  The first is that you gave an undertaking and you have fluffed around it but your officers have now indicated that there is going to be an undertaking from City Hall that will help underwrite the costs or, alternatively, you are saying they cannot build the bridge unless they can secure some sort of absolute guarantee above waving collecting buckets that they will raise £3.5 million - or whatever it is - a year to maintain the bridge.  On top of that, it will need renewal at some stage.  It has a 125-year life.  One day, you and me and Joanna Lumley, tragically, will all be dead and the thing will have to be rebuilt.  There is a risk that history will judge.


There is a competition a little further up the Thames at Nine Elms.  There is a competition for bridges there and we have seen images all over the media of very attractive possible designs, whereas in the case of this one the design was secured, apparently, by a bunch of flowers.  A competition in one place; a bunch of flowers to the north --


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I do not know.  I have explained the detail of the competition that is taking place.


I just want to draw your attention, John, to the letter that was sent by City Hall to the Garden Bridge Trust explaining the circumstances in which we were willing to help out to get over this planning hurdle.  I have explained that this is purely in order to speed the thing up.  You know perfectly well that it is incredibly difficult to get big infrastructure projects done in London at anything like a reasonable speed.  You know the difficulties we face with planning.  We have the Thames Tideway Tunnel coming down the track.  They need to build a huge outlet in 2017.  Unless we get this thing moving, it simply will not happen.


What we have said is that the guarantee that we are making is subject to agreement on the terms of the guarantee, including defining the obligations to be guaranteed and the circumstances in which the guarantee may be called upon.  What I am telling you is that we will not release that £30 million until we are absolutely certain that for a period of five years, ten years or more, the Garden Bridge Trust has the wherewithal to guarantee the maintenance of that bridge.


John Biggs AM:  The problem we have, Mayor, is that in five or ten years’ time there will be another Mayor, there will be another Assembly Member and we will be asking these questions about why we are paying for something when a previous Mayor by the name of Boris Johnson told us it was not going to cost us anything.  People looking at that will ask how it is that the same Mayor did this once before when he promised a cycle hire scheme that would cost us nothing and is now the most heavily subsidised form of transport in London.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  If you want to get rid of the cycle hire scheme, then just say so.  Have the guts to do so.  You will have the enthusiastic support of this particular audience in the gallery and I can understand why, but that is not what I want to do.  It is not what most Londoners want to do.  It would be completely counterproductive for our city.


Be honest about it.  If you hate cyclists, clap your hands. [Clapping and interjections from the public gallery.]  I do not.  They are a wonderful thing.  If you want to play the demagogue and if you want to suck up to this particular audience in this particular gallery today, that is your prerogative.  Go right ahead.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  All right.  Can we just pause for a moment and consider why we are here.  This is a statutory meeting to question the Mayor.  There is a verbatim record taken of everything that is said and it is also filmed and broadcast, which means that it needs to be very clear what the Mayor is saying and what the questions are that are being asked.  That is not helped ‑‑


Tom Copley AM:  There is no one talking over him. 


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  That is not helped if members of the audience are making contributions from the back of the room.  I am rather loath to stop people applauding or demonstrating support, but I do not want catcalling.  If we have it, I will ask the people who are doing it to leave and so please do not.  Mr Biggs?


John Biggs AM:  I rest my point, Chairman.