London Assembly members have accused the charity behind the Garden Bridge project of an ‘an outrageous evasion of scrutiny' after it failed to turn up to a hearing on the fiasco.
An assembly working group is looking into the failed project, which cost a total of £53.5m, of which £43m was taxpayers' money.
It is looking at Transport for London’s (TfL) oversight of the project, which was managed by the Garden Bridge Trust.
On Monday (15 April), the Working Group held the first in a series of public meeting with TfL. It also ‘requested that representatives from the Garden Bridge Trust attend the meetings to explain its role in the failed project’.
However the request was declined, leaving TfL’s head of corporate affairs, Andy Brown, to field questions on his own.
Despite knowing in advance that representatives of the Trust would not be attending, the Assembly, put out chairs and name cards for chairman of trustees Lord Davies of Abersoch, executive director Bee Emmott, and deputy chair Paul Morrell.
It pointed out that one of the most controversial decisions in the ‘botched project’ was that the Trust signed a construction contract prematurely with Bouygues in Feb 2016.
Tom Copley AM, chair of the working group, said that TfL’s decision to 'farm the project out' to an arms-length body had made it much harder for the Assembly to hold those responsible accountable, but his strongest criticism was reserved for the Trust.
He said: ‘We are dismayed at the refusal of the Garden Bridge Trust to appear before us to explain its actions. This is an outrageous evasion of scrutiny which begs the question, what are they afraid of? Their refusal to attend simply makes us more determined to pursue transparency and accountability.
‘By failing to attend, the Trust is evading important questions about why they chose to sign a construction contract without having secured the land on the south bank, nor the necessary planning consents. That decision alone cost taxpayers £21m.
‘In their refusal letter, the Trustees of the Garden Bridge wrote that the Assembly had not heard the other “side of the story” and the “full story should be told”. It’s a shame they have rejected this opportunity to do exactly that.’