Remember how the Garden Bridge wasn't going to cost us any money? How it was all going to be financed by private sponsors? Then the Treasury and Transport for London stumped up £30m each, and now it turns out TfL will underwrite the £3.5m a year maintenance costs, despite public assurances by Boris Johnson that such a thing would not happen.
During a Mayor's Question Time session in December 2014, Johnson replied to a question from Caroline Pidgeon about whether TfL would provide a guarantee for maintenance costs, in case the Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) failed to raise the necessary funds. The Mayor replied:
"I can confirm that no such agreement has been made and nor will I make any undertaking to do so."
In Tuesday's Ask Boris session on LBC he made a similar promise that "the maintenance cost will not be borne by the public sector". However, it's since transpired that a letter (PDF) dated 18 February from Fiona Fletcher Smith, Boris's Executive Director of Development and Environment, to the GBT, says that the Mayor has "agreed in principle to provide such a guarantee". They still need to work out the exact situations under which TfL/City Hall would be expected to pay or make up any shortfall, but it's clear that the guarantee — which was a condition imposed by Westminster City Council before it would grant planning permission — has been given to speed the project ahead.
It's bad enough that £60m of public money is being ploughed into what's basically a tourist attraction, with no public access at night or on 12 days a year for fundraising events, plus the expectation that you'll need to queue just to get on it at busy times (i.e., it fails in some of the essential functions of just being a bridge), but now we're all on the hook for its upkeep, too. Labour Assembly Member John Biggs has a point when he says:
"Boris Johnson has been caught red handed misleading Londoners, promising that maintenance costs won’t be borne by the public sector whilst at the same time drawing up plans to do exactly that. This fiasco shows how little Boris Johnson’s word is worth. In east London, where we desperately need new river crossings, the Mayor expects people to pay a toll. For the Garden Bridge, a scheme which is little more than a tourist attraction, he is willing for taxpayers to underwrite millions of pounds each year in costs."