The charity behind a project to build a tree-covered bridge across the River Thames in London has claimed that a recent review of the scheme’s viability showed "disregard for facts" and was "selective" in its use of evidence.
The review, which was conducted at the request of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said it was unlikely the trust would be able to secure the financial support it needed to complete and maintain the bridge.
The Garden Bridge Trust’s latest accounts show that it still needs to raise £56m of the £185m cost of the project, but also warns that the costs could increase further and a number of hurdles remain before the bridge can be built.
Hodge’s report said it was better for the taxpayer to accept the loss of £46.4m already invested in the scheme than to put further public money in.
But the trust claimed that the report ignored evidence from the charity about the public engagement projects it had conducted and Hodge only spoke to known opponents of the project.
The trust said that a ComRes poll showed more than three-quarters of Londoners supported the project and the trust had "always ensured that we had the necessary resources to meet our obligations and that there were exit points throughout".
It said Hodge had not investigated the trust’s fundraising activities in detail and claimed that "the uniqueness and prominence of the Garden Bridge in central London makes it very attractive to corporate donors".
Lord Davies, chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, said: "It is a shame that Dame Margaret has shown disregard for the facts and been selective in her use of evidence to support her own opinions.
"The trustees’ focus remains on the future of the bridge and the great benefits it will bring to Londoners and visitors alike. That future is now in the hands of the mayor. Our message to him is that this report, with its many errors and ill-informed opinions, is no basis upon which to take decisions about a project that has been through the complex democratic processes by which decisions on development are made in this city."
In response, Hodge said: "Clearly people will want to comment on the report and I did not expect the Garden Bridge Trust to support the conclusions I came to. I conducted an extensive inquiry and the conclusions I reached are grounded in that evidence.
"My review has found that too many things went wrong in the development and implementation of the Garden Bridge project. Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured, and it would be better for the taxpayer to accept the financial loss of cancelling the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional costs to the public purse if the project proceeds. My report outlines some key lessons that can be learned from the Garden Bridge project across different public organisations and makes a number of recommendations. It is now up to the Mayor of London to take a view."