The charity behind abandoned plans to build a garden bridge across the River Thames in London is facing legal action from wealthy donors who want their money back.
The Garden Bridge Trust, which was set up to build and run the proposed bridge, announced in August 2017 that it would be ending the project and winding up after the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan withdrew his support because of concerns that the charity would not be able to raise the £185m needed to complete the project.
The trust had received about £60m of public money but was expected to raise the rest through individual and corporate donations, some of which would have to be repaid if the bridge was not completed.
The charity’s latest annual accounts, published last week for the year to 31 March 2018, revealed that the charity owes just under £7m to donors. The charity said it believed it would be able to pay this if Transport for London held to its agreement to pay £5.1m as part of its 2016 promise to underwrite the project for up to £9m.
But the Nottingham-based law firm Freeths said the trust had denied responsibility for a donation of £250,000, which an unnamed donor gave to have a bench on the bridge named after them.
The firm said it was planning to take legal action on behalf of the unnamed donor and was exploring the possibility of a class action on behalf of other donors.
Christopher Clayton, a solicitor at Freeths, said: "Freeths is investigating claims against the Garden Bridge Trust on behalf of clients who donated considerable sums of money on the basis that it would be returned in the event the project failed.
"The firm has done a considerable amount of work and, although court proceedings have not yet been issued, details of one claim have been put to the trust, which has so far denied responsibility.
"We understand that there are a number of both private and corporate donors who generously donated significant sums of money on the same basis."
Clayton said he was keen to speak to other people affected in the same way who might wish to join the group action.
In the accounts, the trust said it had applied to TfL for the £5.1m and was waiting for the application to go through TfL’s approval process.
Third Sector was unable to reach anyone at the Garden Bridge Trust for comment.
But the charity previously issued a statement to The Architects’ Journal, which broke the story, saying: "The trust has taken great care to ensure that the funds it has received have been correctly applied in accordance with the legal advice it has received.
"In all cases where the advice confirms funds as returnable under charity law, it is the intention and expectation of the trustees that they will be, and funders have been advised accordingly.
"The process of repayment is certainly taking longer than anticipated, for reasons that are beyond the control of trustees, but we continue to work towards resolution with Transport for London; and in the meantime thank our funders for their support and continuing patience."