James O'Brien is Leading Britain's Conversation.
13 September 2016, 07:25
LBC can reveal the Charity Commission is looking into the Garden Bridge Trust amid claims of financial mismanagement.
We've also discovered the project is fast running out of cash, with spending reaching out at £500,000-a-month.
One senior Transport for London official told LBC's Theo Usherwood: "The Garden Bridge is on life support."
Theo reports: "That view is shared at the top of City Hall: one source told me there is a belief now that the bridge will not be built.
"This 1,200 foot bridge from the Temple station to the South Bank was supposed to be an iconic London landmark. The bridge's own website claims it will be an enchanted space - bringing wildlife and horticulture to the heart of the city.
"This was the brainchild of actress Joanna Lumley but it has been beset with allegations of mismanagement and impropriety.
"And we can also reveal the former mayor Boris Johnson handed the Garden Bridge Trust £7 million of public money in February and March on the basis the trust was ready to start construction work.
"That's despite the project not having secured the right to use the land on the south bank.
"And only last month, it was revealed the costs had shot up to £185 million - while several donors had pulled out. There is now a funding deficit of more than £56 million.
"What's more, I can tell you the losses if the project fails are much higher than the £37.7 million detailed by London mayor Sadiq Khan.
"They are actually just shy of £47 million.
"That's because the trust has signed a number of construction contracts with cancellation clauses. Now the Government had agreed to underwrite those losses to the tune of £9 million so the trust could get going.
"But when last month its chairman Lord Mervyn Davies asked to extend that guarantee to £15 million, the transport secretary Chris Grayling refused. As far as the Government is concerned - and I am quoting here - it's time for the luvvies to pay their fair share and not rely on tax-payer handouts.
"So what of those private donors? Well, I have been ringing round those who have been publicly named, who have pledged £1 million or more.
"I have only found one - Citigroup - which has actually agreed to fund the project before construction work starts.
"The Monument trust has put its name down for £20 million. But that money will only be forthcoming once the bridge will definitely be built. Ditto, the Garfield Weston Foundation - down £2 million. And the Sackler Trust - £1 million.
"There are now some private sponsors with deep reservations about having their names attached to the project.
"But the Garden Bridge Trust has told me they are willing to start work once they have their planning permission, even though they are £55 million short.
"And there is apparently nothing Sadiq Khan, or the Government can do to stop them.
"The only thing that might make the trustees think twice is a piece of charity law, which will make each of the trustees personally liable for demolishing the bridge if it is half-finished.
"But there is huge pressure on Sadiq Khan now that he could be presiding over an international embarrassment if he doesn't find a way to intervene.
"Now, just returning to the involvement of the Charity Commission.
"They became involved after Kate Hoey, the Labour MP for Vauxhall wrote to the commission to claim she was worried the trust could be awarding contracts to anonymous donors.
"In response, the commission said it now has an open case to decide whether to bring a statutory legal investigation.
"I've also contacted the trust itself for a comment. A spokesperson insists its running costs are privately funded."
The Garden Bridge Trust told LBC: "We have a strong pipeline of private donations. We are confident that Londoners will continue to support the Bridge as we move forward with the next phases of the project".