Sadiq Khan has used his first Mayor’s Question Time to expose the finances of the Garden Bridge. He said that it would cost taxpayers more than twice as much to cancel the project as it would to now go ahead and build the new bridge.
Transport for London (TfL) and the government have previously each committed £30m to the Garden Bridge Trust’s £175m project. The remaining £115m is being solicited through private donations. Of the £30m pledged by TfL, £20m is in the form of a loan to be repaid in full.
Sadiq Khan revealed that of the £60m of taxpayers money pledged, £37.7m has already been spent by the Garden Bridge Trust. If the project was scrapped now, this amount would be lost forever with no repayment to taxpayers.
However, if the bridge is built, TfL should eventually get its £20m loan back from the Garden Bridge Trust's operating revenues. In addition, the Trust will also pay £22m in VAT to the Treasury. So if the bridge goes ahead it costs the taxpayers just £18m, compared to £60m if it doesn’t.
Whether the bridge is necessary, being built in the right place or has the right design is immaterial, it seems.
The mayor said: “From the point at which I became mayor, it was quite clearly in London taxpayers’ financial interest to complete the Garden Bridge project. It would simply cost Londoners more to cancel the project now, than it would to finish building the Garden Bridge.
“If the bridge was cancelled now taxpayers will have spent £37.7m for no benefit at all. However if we complete the project and our loan is repaid in full then the ultimate cost to taxpayers will be under half that cost at £18m.
“So I will support the building of the Garden Bridge, but I am demanding that the project is made more accessible and open to all Londoners in return.
“I expect the Garden Bridge Trust to ensure that the bridge be closed fewer days each year for private fundraising events and fewer hours when they do. I also want a guarantee that an ongoing programme of visits will be laid on for local school children.”