A letter obtained by Labour London Assembly Member John Biggs AM has revealed that the Mayor of London has secretly committed London taxpayers to underwriting millions of pounds in maintenance costs for the proposed Garden Bridge. The revelation comes only days after Boris Johnson promised listeners calling in to LBC on Tuesday “the maintenance cost will not be borne by the public sector, I’ve made that clear.”
The commitment would tie London taxpayers into £3.5m a year in maintenance costs were the Garden Bridge Trust unable to raise enough money themselves. It is unclear how much of the 125 year bridge lifespan taxpayers would be underwriting costs for but any funding would come in addition to the £60m of public money already committed to the scheme (£30m from TfL and £30m from the Treasury).
Discussing the £3.5m in estimated running costs, the letter confirms that “the Mayor has agreed in principle to provide such a guarantee.” The ability of the Garden Bridge Trust to raise the raise the necessary funding is widely disputed and is currently part of a judicial review with opponents arguing “the Trust have produced no evidence that they can raise the £3.5m annual running costs – four times the cost of maintaining other London bridges.” If the Trust failed to raise the funding necessary each year, the Mayor’s agreement would leave taxpayers footing the bill for years to come.
Labour’s London Assembly Budget Spokesperson John Biggs AM said:
“Boris Johnson has been caught red handed misleading Londoners, promising that maintenance costs won’t be borne by the public sector whilst at the same time drawing up plans to do exactly that. This fiasco shows how little Boris Johnson’s word is worth.
“In East London, where we desperately need new river crossings, the Mayor expects people to pay a toll. For the Garden Bridge, a scheme which is little more than a tourist attraction, he is willing for taxpayers to underwrite millions of pounds each year in costs.
“Boris’ focus has always been on glitzy vanity projects rather than what London actually needs. Underwriting millions for the Garden Bridge shows just how much taxpayer money he is willing to risk to keep Joanna Lumley happy.”