This weekend saw the latest twist in the long-running saga of London’s proposed Garden Bridge.
For those uninitiated, here’s a very quick potted history:
- Shiny new bridge announced, to be paid for by private firms. Shiny new bridge met with much acclaim, largely because Joanna Lumley is involved
- Private firms don’t come along. Shiny new bridge to receive £30 million from Transport for London and £30 million from HM Treasury
- Somebody points out that, quite apart from the rest of the building costs, the shiny new bridge will cost £3m a year to maintain. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, declares in a radio interview on LBC that “the maintenance cost will not be borne by the public sector.”
- This weekend, Boris changed his mind, and signed up Londoners to the £3m a year cost.
UPDATE: Boris responded to the concerns today on LBC, claiming that in fact the £3m a year won't cost taxpayers, just that the bridge needs 'guarantors' in order to get planning permission. You can listen for yourself here and make up your own mind.
The upshot of this rather dramatic reverse ferret from the Mayor, as revealed by the Observer, is that a bridge that wasn’t supposed to cost taxpayers a penny is now going to cost not just £60 million in upfront construction costs, but an ongoing maintenance cost which some predict could be as high as £90 million over the lifetime of the bridge. The Garden Bridge Trust, tasked with picking up private donations, is allegedly £40-odd million in the hole already, so whether taxpayers have to pick up even more of the cost remains to be seen.
We’re not inherently against spending of any kind.
But we are against taxpayer cash going on a bridge that barely counts as a bridge.
The Garden Bridge is a vanity project – some sanity is urgently needed.