Exclusive: Lib Dem mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon says Osborne bypassed rules to secure Garden Bridge funding

“Lots of things don’t add up,” Pidgeon says

Caroline Pidgeon microphone Lib Dems 2015

Caroline Pidgeon in 2015

Lib Dem mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon has been on the London Assembly for eight years, and over recent months has been working to uncover the bizarre procurement process that has led to the go ahead for the Garden Bridge.

During an exclusive interview with London Loves Business, we took the opportunity to ask her about the controversial river crossing.

“Joanna Lumley’s beautiful Garden Bridge – it’s absolutely fabulous isn’t it?”

“Hahaha,” Pidgeon laughs loud, before abruptly stopping and adding, “I think it’s a waste of public money. There are huge issues with it.

“What I haven’t liked about this whole thing, and have been uncovering gradually, month after month, is that it appears – and only if it’s the appearance of it – to have been stitched up from the start.”

An FOI request by Pidgeon revealed fascinating details of how Boris Johnson conducted the procurement process.

“We now know he flew out on a 48-hour trip to visit Apple in San Francisco with City Hall staff,” Pidgeon says.”Thomas Heatherwick [the bridge’s architect] happened to be there as well and came to the meetings with Apple.

“And this was days before TfL put out a tender for “a crossing”. It never said a garden bridge. So it feels like the other people who were more experienced at building bridges were not presented with a true picture of what TfL really wanted, and guess what? Thomas Heatherwick Studios won the contract.

“It’s very murky.”

Garden Bridge London

A bridge too far?

She is also critical of the funding. The bridge is costing taxpayers an up-front cost of £60m, of which £20m is now a loan.

“£60m of public money to go into something that is going to be closed lots for private events, and is not going to be open at night?” She asks incredulously. “There are too many issues with this.”

Unorthodox Osborne

Pidgeon also believes Chancellor George Osborne bypassed the normal procedures in order to get the funding required from the Department for Transport (DfT).

“The recent national audit office report was rather critical, and basically said George Osborne had approached this in an unorthodox manner,” she says. “[This] is not how you would fund any transport project, and he obviously went round the normal rules for anything that is DfT funded.”

Garden pier?

Pidgeon is now in full throttle as her mayoral campaign gathers momentum, and she remains determined to fight the Garden Bridge. Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith is backing anything Johnson has approved over the past eight years, and even Labour’s Sadiq Khan was swayed to support the bridge after some of the funding was changed to become a loan.

“Ideally I would like to stop it, and I would withdraw TfL funding from it,” Pidgeon says. “But if they’ve started building it… we did joke at City Hall last week that it may end up being a garden pier.”

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