Back in July, I asked whether Sadiq Khan could be cancelling the Garden Bridge by stealth.
He hasn’t scrapped the project: in fact, he once said it should definitely go ahead, on the grounds it would cost more to cancel than to proceed. But he had made very clear that it would not be receiving any more public money after the rather generous contributions it had already received.
The result, I suggested, was that…
…either the Garden Bridge happens, without Sadiq Khan committing another penny, and he’ll be able to take the credit (just as Boris Johnson took the credit for Ken Livingstone’s cycle hire scheme); or the Garden Bridge doesn’t happen, and it’ll be because the previous administration mucked up the finances.
Either way, Khan wins, and he doesn’t have to be the mean-spirited mayor who cancelled something beautiful.
Anyway. Today comes a sort of sequel. From the Guardian:
The fate of London’s proposed garden bridge has been placed in jeopardy after the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced a formal inquiry into whether the controversial project is worth the £60m of public money pledged to it.
Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who spent five years grilling chief executives and senior civil servants as head of parliament’s public accounts committee, will lead a review into the planned £185m structure across the Thames, from Temple to the South Bank.
While Hodge’s inquiry is not explicitly tasked with considering whether the project should be built, it piles further pressure on a troubled and delayed scheme that has yet to raise the private donations needed, or to clear all the necessary planning hurdles.
Maybe I’m suffering from confirmation bias here, but… this has not really shaken my earlier conclusions.
Imagine that Hodge’s enquiry finds that the Garden Bridge provides value for public money. Brilliant! The naysayers will have to stop muttering darkly about the uncomfortably close relationship between former mayor Boris Johnson and design-o-naut Thomas Heatherwick, the bridge can be built, and we can all enjoy a new landmark guilt-free.
Alternatively, imagine that the enquiry finds that the lack of transparency around the project’s finances is hiding something nasty: Sadiq Khan would be sadly obligated to cancel the thing.
But – the project’s boosters could hardly blame him for that, could they? Instead, blame would land on those who mucked up the procurement and funding of the scheme in the first place.
I don’t think Sadiq Khan is specifically trying to cancel the Garden Bridge. I do think he’s trying to create the political space to make it possible to do so without everyone calling him a killjoy.
And at the moment, cancelling the bridge remains entirely plausible. Construction work has yet to begin – in fact, the Garden Bridge Trust, which is working on the project, has yet to even acquire the land on which the bridge’s southern landing will sit. Some of the project’s top secret private sponsors have dropped out, too, leaving a £22m hole in the budget.
Perhaps the project will overcome all this. But if I worked for the Garden Bridge Trust, I would be very, very worried right about now.
Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.