Garden Bridge saga a 'failure for charity', regulator concludes

The Charity Commission says that, although there was no mismanagement at the Garden Bridge Trust, the fact that more than £50m was spent on the failed scheme risked undermining public trust

An artist's impression of the Garden Bridge
An artist's impression of the Garden Bridge

The unsuccessful bid to build a garden bridge across the River Thames, which saw more than £50m of public funds spent without a stone being laid, was a "failure for charity" that risked undermining public trust in the sector, the Charity Commission has concluded. 

The regulator has published a report on the Garden Bridge Trust, which was registered as a charity in 2014 with the backing of up to £60m from the Department for Transport and Transport for London to build a leafy footpath across the river in central London. 

The scheme was abandoned in 2017 and the charity announced it would wind up after Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, withdrew his support amid concerns it would be unable to raise the estimated £185m necessary to complete the project. 

The commission says in today’s report that, although the charity’s trustees complied with their legal obligations and there was no mismanagement, "the fact that £50m of public funds were spent by a charity and produced no demonstrable public benefit or impact represents a failure for charity that risks undermining public trust". 

It is also critical of the charity’s lack of transparency and accountability. 

The report says the case has led the commission to consider how charities are used to deliver significant infrastructure projects. 

"We would advise policymakers to think very carefully before setting up an entirely new charity to deliver a singular public project or purpose," the report says. 

"We consider it unlikely that the public would expect risks that are inherent in a major public infrastructure project to be outsourced to such a charity."

It also says charities that receive public funds to deliver public services or projects should demonstrate "scrupulous accountability and a spirit of transparency and openness to the public".

It says: "The legal minimum set out in the accounting framework should be viewed as just that: a minimum, not an aspiration."

Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, said: "Londoners and taxpayers will legitimately feel angry and let down by the waste of millions of pounds of public money on a charitable project that was not delivered. 

"I understand that anger and am clear that this represents a failure for charity that risks undermining public confidence in charities generally.

"While the charity was not mismanaged, the public would also expect, as I do, that the right lessons are learned from this case, so that we don’t see a similar failure arising in future."

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