London’s transport commissioner has revealed serious concerns about political decisions taken by former mayor Boris Johnson as he prepared to leave office.
Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown told the London Assembly’s investigation into the Garden Bridge fiasco that he had ‘an almighty falling out’ with Mr Johnson over the then mayor’s request that he produce a business plan in advance of the 2016 mayoral election, in which Mr Johnson was not standing.
Mr Brown said he felt this request to be ‘totally inappropriate’, given the stark differences in the manifestos of the mayoral candidates. Eventually Mr Johnson issued Mr Brown a formal mayoral direction to issue the business plan.
He told Assembly members that it was for this reason that ‘I have taken really seriously all the recommendations that have emerged as to TfL governance changes that are required to happen’ following the collapse of the Garden Bridge project.
In December 2017, Mr Brown told Assembly member Len Duval in a letter that TfL committees would be ‘more closely monitoring activities that are subject to a Mayoral Direction’.
Mr Brown also explained that there was also concern over Mr Johnson’s request for a ‘significant' funding commitment to the Garden Bridge project in the run up to the election.
He stated that in April 2016 at a meeting with Mr Johnson where ‘there was some discussion around additional sums of money to underwrite the project and there was a real concern expressed by [Greater London Authority] monitoring officers and indeed my own team as the appropriateness of that in the lead up to the election campaign with a degree of uncertainty as what any future mayor [would decide]’.
He added: I was concerned, and my colleagues were concerned, that we did not fetter the views of any future mayor, which is why we ended up – instead of the request for quite a significant amount of money – releasing just £1.3m at that time to keep the project going; to not kill it off as that would itself have been a political decision as well.’
Asked whether the project, whose eventual collapse cost £43m of public money, had become very political, he said: ‘Of course, the very nature of the project, given that it was subject to the number of mayoral directions it was, inevitably there was politics involved.’
Mr Brown said he was not aware that the Garden Bridge Trust was about to sign a construction contract in early 2016 – a decision that has since been criticised, given that the Trust did not have funding in place.
Asked whether he thought it was reckless of the Trust to sign the contract without having the full funds in the bank, he implicitly agreed, contrasting the move with his own decision to cancel a major Piccadilly line signalling upgrade last year because he wasn’t confident that there was a steady stream of funding.
While claiming to have had limited contact with the Trust, he said: ‘I had assumed that they must have had a degree of certainty as to the funding that was coming to them if they were going to enter into that contract with Bouygues.'
Mr Brown added that ‘there were lots of things that with the benefit of hindsight we would have chosen to do differently’.