In October 2016, Dame Margaret Hodge MP was appointed to lead an independent review of the Garden Bridge project. As part of this review, she conducted a number of interviews with key people and organisations. To aid future research and debate, we have committed to transcribing these interviews into a searchable, full-text format.
The completed transcripts can all be found on our Garden Bridge Review page. Please be aware that this is a large project – combined, the interviews comprise around 250,000 words. We thus ask for your patience when waiting for the transcripts to be completed.
You can read the original scan of this interview here. Due to length, our transcript is divided into two parts.
Richard de Cani led on the procurement of the Garden Bridge contracts within TfL’s planning department. After Michèle Dix’ departure for Crossrail 2, he took up post as Managing Director for Planning.
The interview took place on 14 December 2016. Present were Dame Margaret Hodge MP (MH), Richard de Cani (RdC) and Claire Hamilton (CH).
MH: Justine Curry and David Curtis, is that right?
RdC: Procurement and legal, and there were other comments by the comms team as well.
MH: Have we got the comms team?
CH: I’ve got comments from them at some point.
CH: Yes. Comments from Howard and Vernon. Front page, here, Vernon Everett is mentioned.
MH: Okay, so you’re saying that, by drawing my attention to that, what you’re really saying that there was a PR …
RdC: No, all I’m saying is I was probably making fewer comments on it than other people were. There were a whole range of people inputting into the drafting of that report.
MH: It doesn’t feel that when I read it, Richard, I’ve got to say that. It doesn’t feel right.
RdC: Okay, I haven’t got a copy with me.
MH: It doesn’t feel right. It feels like you took out a sentence, which I can’t understand why you even took it out:
“Prior to the meeting – this is the meeting, the January meeting, prior to that January meeting for that note — the Mayor and TfL had received representations from Thomas Heatherwick’s studio regarding the proposal of Garden Bridge on that occasion.”
And you took that out. I can’t understand why. Why take that out?
RdC: Well some of it was ordering in the report, because I think that came out somewhere else as well, I think that appears somewhere else in the report.
MH: It did, but you took it out.
RdC: So some of it was about putting it in the right place in the document.
MH: So it looks as if — it doesn’t feel like that.
RdC: I did have some issues with the tone of the audit report, which I didn’t think reflected what actually happened, so I did comment on the tone of it, some of the wording.
MH: You’ve taken out a lot about “following discussions between the TfL and Mayor”, so you took all that out. Were you protecting the Mayor?
RdC: I’ve got no reason to protect the Mayor. I’ve got no particular loyalty — I think that’s the wrong thing to say, but —
MH: No, no, I agree with you.
RdC: — I’ve got no reason to protect the Mayor.
MH: They’re not protecting you.
RdC: I’ve got no reason to protect the Mayor, absolutely not, no. I haven’t got the document with me, there were lots of comments on the audit report and it was about the tone and the emphasis and there were some things I disagreed with how it was written, there were some things that I thought were overly negative.
MH: But it does say something, which you stated that any procurement would need to be subject to competition through OJEU [Official Journal of the European Union] and it would appropriate for procurement to drive procurement strategy, and you took that out. I think, why is he taking it out?
RdC: Doesn’t that come back in later on, because some of it is about ordering, isn’t it, in the report? I don’t know what version you’re looking at. It was restructured halfway through.
MP: What I asked her to do for me was to see the changes — whether that comes back in later, does it?
RdC: It went through a completely different structure. I’ve got it somewhere. It was reduced in length.
MH: The email was sent one day after bids were received — you took this out — and the communication did not follow standard TfL procedure to make all communication should have been made. There is no record in the TfL commercial file of TfL having received a response from Thomas Heatherwick’s studio to this clarification.
You know, just I don’t understand why it comes out. You think, what are you trying to — that is where you really think, what are you trying to hide?
RdC: Yes, I think you need to look at what the final one was and the structure of it because things got moved around.
MH: Can you do another bit of work for me on this, Claire?
CH: I’ll check on that one.
MH: And then, if necessary, we’ll come back to you. the important thing that came out was the criticism bit, which is right at the end I think, isn’t it, in this document, the conclusion was completely rewritten in the final published — okay, version 1:
“Our audit identified a number of instances where the procurement deviated from TfL policy and procedure and OJEU guidance as follows: no procurement strategy for managing procurement; informal contacts with individual bidders in each procurement; lack of clear segregation of duties in the evaluation of [blah, blah, blah]; no evaluation documentation has been retained by TfL commercial; tender documentation held with TfL is incomplete. Taken together, these firstly impact on the openness and objectivity of procurement.”
The audit did not find any evidence that would suggest that the final recommendations did not provide value for money …”
Very, very different.
RdC: Yes, it went through a restructure, the report.
MH: That’s more than a restructure.
RdC: Yes, no, I agree, and I think you need to look at the before and after and who was commenting on what sections, some of it was around changing tone and emphasis and some of the criticisms, which were, I felt, incorrect.
MH: Could you do me a favour, write to me and tell me what you thought was incorrect rather than what you classify as tone?
RdC: I haven’t got the benefit of any of the documentation anymore.
MH: Can we get that from the trail of emails?
MH: I’ve got you down as a lot of — who did that, who rewrote the final summary?
RdC: So the audit team owns the report.
MH: But on whose instruction?
RdC: So there were comments made by Vernon and Howard that were quite substantial in terms of structure —
MH: An early form of the amended conclusion first appeared in version 2, which was amended taking into account comments from RDC, Howard, slightly, discussed with others, and further discussion with Justine Curry and David Curtis.
RdC: Yes. There were a lot of —
MH: So you were pretty key to this.
RdC: Well, no, I was one of a number of people commenting on it.
MH: What were you trying to hide?
RdC: I wasn’t trying to hide anything, I wanted to get the right tone and emphasis, I wanted to make sure the report was accurate; that it wasn’t overly negative or critical where it didn’t need to be or it wasn’t fair to be.
MH: It’s different, version 1 and version 2 are absolutely different.
RdC: Yes, well I think with any audit report will go through a series of iterations.
MH: That’s why I say I’m perfectly familiar with this and it becomes an agreed document — hopefully an agreed document — at the end. But this is so radically different, it’s not just you’ve got this fact wrong, I want you to correct it.
RdC: So the person that owns the audit report is the director of audit in TfL who works for Howard. Now, it wasn’t my document and it wasn’t my role ever to say, “You must change that now, you’ve got to change it”, these were comments that we were making based on our contribution; I with a number of people. The ultimate owner of that report was the director of audit who worked for Howard. They took the decision.
MH: But are you saying that version 1 was wrong, from your view?
RdC: There were elements in version 1, again I don’t have the benefit of looking at version 1.
MH: Just look at the conclusion.
RdC: There was drafting in version 1, which the tone and the emphasis and some of the comments were incorrect.
MH: But they are pointedly different things, completely different.
“Early in version one the audit amendments include the addition of the first conclusion by Roy Millard. I propose a new conclusion, which I hope brings together the main points to cover the, ‘So what?’ question in the mind of the reader and hopefully prevents too much challenge from the audit team.”
I don’t quite know what that means, but you can see from this there were a number of people that were changing those conclusions.
MH: But it is a completely different.
RdC: I did not have control of this document to direct how the conclusions were changed. I commented, but the ultimate ownership of this was by the audit department.
MH: But you’re a pretty powerful person in the TfL structure.
RdC: Well, one of a considerable number. I need to look at those versions, because I don’t have the benefit of what you’re looking at and they have changed from one set —
MH: All right. Yes, we can share them. Can we share all that?
CH: Yes. I’m trying to think how we do it in a manageable way, because what we’ve got from the TfL is the entire exchange, whereas I guess what we —
MH: Which is why I’m taking forever and I get muddled.
CH: But then we can perhaps send the last version from audit. Because that’s the one, I think, that came to you and others.
MH: The first and the last, or is that crazy?
CH: No, I think that’s what I’ve tried to do here, is compare the last version that was circulated and then the version that ended up being published.
RdC: I know there was a review of that audit process by EY recently. That was done for the new Mayor and that had the benefit of reading all those things. I haven’t looked in detail at what they said.
MH: I haven’t seen that, actually. What has he said? Have we seen that? Have you looked at that? Have you seen that?
CH: You do have it, but it’s —
RdC: It went to the TfL Audit Committee in October this year.
CH: It’s quite small. It’s a couple of pages.
MH: — not worth my while seeing?
RdC: Well, no, I think it is, actually, because it’s an audit of what you’re saying.
RdC: What EY were asked to do by the new administration at City Hall was exactly what you’re saying, was the process of doing the audit and drafting the report the right process?
MH: Okay. I will have a look at it.
RdC: And they report on that and it went to the TfL board.
MH: Okay. Let’s move off that. Can I ask you something about the business case?
MH: Which was done – remind me of the actual date it was done – after —
RdC: 2013. At some point during 2013.
MH: After you’d embarked on the project?
MH: What were your instructions around preparing that business case?
RdC: Well, I think it’s in this paper that went to the Mayor. It talks about the need to have — It says in here:
“An important first phase will be to establish a clear policy statement of need for a new crossing of the Thames. Whilst the transport strategy supports it, it needs to have a more detailed policy developed and a more defined set of objectives [that’s basically talking about a business case] and this will be progressed during January and February 2013.”
MH: So do you think it was a contrived business case or was it a genuine business case?
RdC: The business case was one of the most thorough business cases that we’ve done for an infrastructure project, actually. It wasn’t contrived, because it was done by a team of consultants, different people. It looked at benefits quite differently, so it captured benefits that you don’t traditionally capture with a transport business case, because this was not just a bridge, it was a bridge with a garden.
When you look at that business case, which is a very detailed piece of work, it talks about the benefits in terms of land value, economic value and the value of open space, health, social wellbeing, as well as the transport stuff. So the business case absolutely was a very thorough piece of work, which is why it’s quite frustrating when people say, “This is rubbish. It’s got no business case”. Actually, it’s got a very detailed business case. It’s got a bigger business —
MH: It’s got a detailed business case, but there are some very odd — for example, the main thing in the business case is the economic benefits of an £84 million increase in property values —
RdC: Yes, on the North Bank.
MH: Do you really believe that?
RdC: Yes, absolutely.
MH: And what’s happening with the London property market?
RdC: Well, actually, the London property market is doing quite well in some sectors in terms of inward investment. And the main benefit, in simple terms, of the bridge in that location was opening up the North Bank and that whole area around Strand, Aldwych, which is the poor relation of the West End. It’s seeing an uplift in their type of activity.
MH: They all come across Waterloo Bridge, actually, don’t they?
RdC: Yes, but as someone who comes into Waterloo every day and uses Waterloo Bridge, it’s a hostile environment for a pedestrian.
MH: Yes, it’s a horrible bridge. I walk across it quite a lot.
RdC: You can’t close that bridge and then deal with traffic at 7.5 miles an hour and buses and cycles.
MH: No, no. You would have —
RdC: I actually feel quite strongly the case for a footbridge in that location is really strong and really sound, because in central London, we’ve got more people working, more people visiting, more people passing through and we need more people. They can’t all fit on the Tube, too many people use the Tube for three stops, the roads are rammed. We need dedicated space for pedestrians and planning something for people walking as opposed to people mixing with cyclists or traffic is a good thing, given the growth we’ve had.
Does it need to be a bridge with a garden? Well, that adds something in different in terms of the benefits, because it creates an open space, it creates a more attractive environment for pedestrians. So the business case for it I think is quite robust.
MH: Ed Lister, in his evidence, said there is no transport case for it.
RdC: Well, that’s not entirely true. The business case is made up and —
MH: There is a case for — there’s always a case for doing “grand project”.
RdC: No, it’s not entirely true. The business case is made up of different layers and part of it is transport, but a lot of it is economic benefit and the value of having something for pedestrians. The transport benefit comes and that’s talked about in the business case and the transport assessment. It creates a shorter walking journey, particularly for people who arrive at Waterloo in the morning —
MH: Two seconds. That’s what it says in the document. I’ve read the business case. It’s two seconds. It’s ridiculous.
RdC: It doesn’t — again, if you look at the transport assessment which went with the planning application that did the detailed assessment of impact on journey times, it shows that people going from Waterloo to Midtown – that whole area that is now called Midtown – this is a quicker route than walking the other routes and a more attractive route and a safer route and a cleaner route.
MH: It’s both a destination place and 864 people walk across the bridge per day.
RdC: Well, that’s not right.
MH: I got all these figures from the business case. I’ve tried to —
RdC: It’s a lot more than 864 a day. That might be a particular group.
MH: No, that walk across rather than —
RdC: That figure is not right.
MH: — rather than people doing it as a — using it for transport.
RdC: You need to look at the transport assessment. That’ll have those figures.
MH: Twenty-five seconds. Savings of 25 seconds by using the bridge, which you monetised.
RdC: I don’t agree with that, that there’s no transport benefits. I agree that transport benefits are a part of the case, but the majority of the case is around the wider economic benefits and the benefits to London.
MH: And you think they are still valid?
RdC: Yes. We looked at a range of BCR [benefit-cost ratio] scenarios in the business case with the amount of public funding/private funding. They were all tested. It was a really robust business case. It was done by independent consultants, lots of people working on it, lots of internal review in terms of inside TfL. And if part of your remit is to review, “Is there a business case?” then someone needs to go through that and say, “That’s all wrong”.
MH: And the alternatives, you know, looking at doing something to make Waterloo Bridge a bit more —
RdC: So that was part of the business case, looking at alternatives, so that’s in the report. It looks at could you just do that or that and it concluded that the best business case is for building the bridge there like that.
MH: Well, I’m going to put it to you that your instruction was, “We’re going to have this bloody Garden Bridge” so you do a business case that justifies a view already shared, the Mayor wanting to do this, which again, I don’t attack. I think that’s what mayors are there for.
RdC: No, no, no. I’m not trying to create the impression there’s this pure world where you ignore that and do that and wait until the number comes out of the computer. We knew the Mayor wanted to do this, but the business case that was done was to stand on its two feet, because it gets challenged and scrutinised. It does stand on its own two feet and the people that did it, who are experts in developing business cases, I hope would still stand by that. They were consultants that did the work for us.
RdC: I would just add, Margaret, as well, if you look at a business case for transport infrastructure these days, just take the A13 tunnel, that is not a transport business case, it’s an economic business case.
MH: Oh, yes, yes.
RdC: So the legitimacy around looking at transport projects very differently, that’s —
MH: Actually, there might be a transport case there, I’d rather think.
RdC: Yes, but’s not 100 per cent of it, it’s that much of it.
MH: Yes, yes.
RdC: And that’s the Garden Bridge and that is allowed.
MH: Yes, fine. During your procurement – it’s one question I’ve got down here and I’m really sorry I’m jumping around, apologies for that – did Isabel play any role in your procurement at all, in either of the procurements?
RdC: Apart from being updated on the results of it, no. Did she interfere to try and influence it? No. She was part of that original discussion with Michele and Peter about, “We’re going to do it this way”, As the Mayor’s transport advisor, her and Eddie were the two key advisors, so she basically set the direction with other people in that meeting and she was informed of the outcome. She didn’t take a role in the day-to-day of it, no.
MH: Okay, okay.
RdC: Genuinely they just leave that to TfL, but they set the direction.
MH: Okay, okay. In the financial case, when we started on this project and you decided the £60 million was going in – I’m jumping forward a bit now – there was a decision that preconstruction costs were going to be £8 million or something like that.
RdC: It was an estimate of what the costs were, yes.
MH: And we’ve now so far spent about £37 million, £38 million.
RdC: Yes, or whatever the figure is, yes.
MH: In your view, was that predictable? When you got your original letter from Treasury, in that Osborne’s letter to Boris says, “You’re not to spend more than £8 million” or something like that — That was the terms of which Treasury gave you the money originally.
CH: I think it might have been the Under-Secretary who specified that, wasn’t it?
MH: No, it was in Osborne’s letter, definitely.
CH: He did set terms, yes.
RdC: Well, there was some correspondence between the Mayor and the Chancellor when he said, “I’m only going to do this. Your job is to do that” and I can’t remember what the detail was, but —
MH: I can go through my notes and I will find it, if you give me a minute. And then it goes up. I wanted you to really explain that to me, why it went up, whether that was predictable. I’m going to find this. Do you want me to find this quickly?
RdC: Well, so the way the funding worked with Government – and there was a discussion – so once the Mayor and the Chancellor had agreed they were putting money in together — Which I have to say was a surprise to TfL.
MH: It was a surprise?
MH: So you thought the thing would die, did you?
RdC: No, we didn’t. No, we didn’t know we were being committed to £30 million until that happened.
MH: Oh, I see. Bloody hell. Okay.
“NB, letter from Robert Goodwill 12/11/14, facilitating the £30 million from the Government.”
RdC: Yes, he’s the Under-Secretary, Permanent Secretary or — yes.
MH: He’s not Permanent Secretary, but he’s — I don’t know where he is, Goodwill.
MH: “That the contract for the construction of the bridge should be let under an open competitive tendering process.”
Let’s see. Bouygues, whatever they’re called, Bouygues’ contract.
MH: “I understand that the maximum of £8.025 million of this proposed increase will be required for preconstruction activities and I have made the redetermination on the basis–”
RdC: That’s of their money, I think.
MH: Yes, but it was half/half, it was 50:50.
RdC: Yes. I think it’s £8 million and £8 million. So that’s the DfT’s contribution.
MH: I see.
RdC: That’s not saying the cost of the activity is only £8 million. They were very clear that they wanted their money to be spent more on the construction side, rather than what they saw as the risky front end planning and land, and they saw the Mayor as committing his money to that, because he was the Mayor and he was better-placed to manage those risks. That was the logic, which I can sort of understand.
MH: Okay. So you’re not surprised by £28 million?
RdC: No. You’re right, it is more than we were forecasting and that’s partly because the way that the Trust have proceeded on some of the challenges they’ve had and obstacles that have been thrown up has meant they’ve had to do things in a slightly different order. So they progressed further on the design ahead of actually starting building to keep the contract with Bouygues. So some of that work would have been part of the construction phase if everything had gone a bit more smoothly.
MH: And did you approve that they let the contract to Bouygues?
RdC: No, we —
MH: Did you think there was a risk in that? They hadn’t got all the permissions; the NAO [National Audit Office] report is quite critical on that point. And they haven’t got the PLA [Port of London Authority] permission.
RdC: So in the funding agreement with the Trust, it’s got various conditions in it that say, “Before you do this, you must do that” and a whole range of things and one of them is demonstrating that they’ve made sufficient progress before letting contracts and things like that. So there was a moment when the Trust present things to us and we had to take a view whether it met that condition or not. The conditions in the funding agreement weren’t specified in a huge amount of detail, so we took the view. And, with this project as well, things have sort of progressed and some things have moved backwards because of the nature of where it’s got to.
MH: So just to get this clear in my mind, because letting the contract was quite a big step and it has led to all this, “Who’s going to fund –”
RdC: Yes, the guarantees and things, yes.
MH: The guarantee and fees if they terminate the contract. Did they come to TfL and say —
RdC: Yes, that’s one of the conditions in the funding agreement, that they would come —
MH: They came and you approved it?
RdC: Well, me and a combination of other people. So I received it as the nominated person and then sought the input from the finance person, who went to …
MH: So give me your view of it. You thought it was okay?
RdC: Sorry, I can’t remember exactly what the condition says — the funding agreement defines the conditionality and they have to meet those conditions and those conditions are not absolute, so they have to demonstrate sufficient progress with it, that’s the tone of it.
MH: You thought the risk in that —
RdC: So through the ongoing dialogue with the Trust, we had assessed the risk and — I can’t remember, but I think there’s break clauses in there. There were various breaks in the contract with Bouygues. It wasn’t “We let the contract now and they start building tomorrow” it was, “We let the contract, we give them the commitment, but there’s a further break there and a further break there”. It was staggered. So constantly what the Trust has done is pushed back the final point when they actually say yes to the diggers.
MH: What was the point of letting the contract?
RdC: What was the point in getting Bouygues committed and contracted? Well, (1) it demonstrated progress.
MH: PR? They didn’t have Coin Street. That was always going to be —
RdC: Coin Street have been — I don’t know whether you’ve spoken to Coin Street in any of this.
MH: I have.
RdC: Coin Street have been through an up and down giving their support for this.
MH: But they are like that. I’ve met Coin Street over the years. They are a very aggressive bunch of people.
RdC: Yes. We took the view that they’d met the condition and we looked at all the risks very carefully. You’ve got to remember as well that —
MH: Was your view at the time, “This is a sensible time to be letting the contract”? Was your judgement — whatever said in the document, “Is it sensible at this point with how they’ve raised the money privately, where they’ve got on the permissions? Is this a sensible time to let it?”
RdC: Yes. I think it was always a balance of risk, where they’d got to. There was also a strong political push which we’ve talked about, to make progress with this, but we looked at the risks very carefully. I was very clear that it wasn’t a decision that I would take on my own, I would seek the input from other people in TfL and get the Commissioner to say he was happy with it, because I knew these were decisions that were quite significant.
And what the Trust actually had with Bouygues was a series of breaks basically pushing away the inevitable further into the future, so every decision that they were taking wasn’t the final decision. So they have various break clauses with Bouygues, which is what the Government cancellation guarantees are around. But there was pressure from the political side at City Hall and from the Government for this to carry on, because they committed money. And Bouygues had put a very competitive price to build, they’d done a good price to build it. They’d offered some very positive things about how they were going to build it, support for training, all those kind of things. It was seen as a very good bid, because they wanted to showcase what they could do in the UK. And we didn’t want to lose that, didn’t want to lose the public money that had gone in, so it was all about maintaining the momentum, keeping it going and balancing risk.
MH: Okay. If you hadn’t had political pressure, Richard, would you have let the contract at that point?
RdC: But everything in TfL has political pressure. Nothing we do doesn’t.
MH: It just seems to me this is a highly risky venture and if it had been me taking the decision, I would have said, “Hang on a minute, we ought to sort out a little bit and we ought to get a bit more money”.
RdC: And you can see a lot of that — I don’t know how much of that communication you’ve got but you can see a lot of that around those decisions about, “Where’s the money? What’s the risk? What’s the mitigation? Where’s Government on this?” and that was a big part of the discussion and those discussions were in the round. Yes, there was a desire from City Hall and from national Government to keep this going, because they committed money. From a public money perspective, the fact we committed some money and there was a business case, we didn’t want to lose that money —
MH: You have committed money, but you are risking future money. Obviously you’ve spent money, but you’re risking one heck of a lot of money.
RdC: It was a frustrating, difficult project from that perspective.
MH: But you felt quite —
RdC: Not me in isolation, because I was very clear that this is something we, TfL — this needed a TfL discussion about this.
MH: So it’s you. Who were they?
RdC: Well, the Commissioner, ultimately. The finance, the legal, the Commissioner were all aware of where we were with this and were happy with the recommendations and the decisions we were taking step by step. And also we briefed City Hall on some of those risks as well and said, “This is where we’ve got to. We can do this, this. We can do the rest of this”.
MH: When you say “brief City Hall” you mean Isabel and Ed?
RdC: Through mayoral meetings, yes.
MH: Again through these unminuted mayoral meetings?
RdC: Which happen every week. There’s probably one happening today.
MH: Okay. And then we get them coming in and asking for … by the way, did you have any role in the trip to try and raise money? The Mayor did the trip to Apple in California.
MH: Did you know about it?
RdC: Not until afterwards. It’s been very widely reported.
MH: So there is a role. You see, it’s quite interesting, this. I’m not going to be able to prove it. So the decision whether to let that Bouygues contract was discussed by you, because that was under the terms of your contract with the Trust?
RdC: So TfL had the funding agreement, yes.
MH: Yes, the funding agreement with the Trust. And it went to the Mayor and it went to the unminuted, unscripted Mayor’s meeting?
RdC: Yes, so the Mayor — there was a constant —
MH: So this idea that Isabel and Ed and Boris, who I have yet to talk, didn’t know about procurement —
RdC: Oh no, that’s a different procurement, so this is all about keeping the Mayor and his advisers updated on progress.
MH: Yes, but they took a view.
RdC: And that’s exactly what we were doing, updating them on progress.
CH: Do you know if there would have been a paper for that?
RdC: I don’t. There were a series of update papers.
MH: Can we just check? And I’m sorry to ask you. More bloody paper.
CH: No, — but I think it feels like from records (a) that’s nearer, and (b) that’s TfL having a briefing note, which I feel might have more chance of having been kept than a note of the meeting, so I can ask.
RdC: Yes. TfL produces briefing notes for those mayoral meetings.
MH: Then we go through all these amendments to that money without — let me just get the right bit. You can see how much paper –
RdC: My role changed during this process as well. Michele moved into a different role and I took her job.
MH: Yes, and then you took over, okay.
RdC: Which was some point in 2015.
MH: Yes. They were given the original contract, the Trust is, or the funding agreement.
RdC: The funding agreement, yes.
MH: Thank you. And then it was revised.
RdC: Yes. There were a couple of revisions, I think.
MH: Can you take me through that? They came to you?
RdC: So from memory, the revision — the original funding agreement had a schedule of payments.
MH: Yes, I’ve got it. The cap was originally set at £8.2 million construction.
MH: June 2015 they added more, so it came to £9.95 million.
RdC: Yes, yes.
MH: And are you telling me that the TfL contribution was higher than £9.95 million? Because this is the Government contribution.
RdC: Yes, you see, it —
MH: And then it was increased to £13.2 million in February 2016.
RdC: I think — yes, I think everything the NAO talks about is the Government’s contribution to the project. Separate to that — and it goes back to Government didn’t want to put money in upfront; they wanted TfL to do more of that. So that’s why they’re always holding money back, but that’s not the total expenditure. You need to add to that what TfL was doing at the time.
MH: And TfL was? Do you remember that?
RdC: TfL was more, exposed, if you like, upfront on those early costs. We were funding the more risky uncertain work that was more likely to be abortive, because that was the agreement with Government, because we were seen as best-placed to manage the risk. The devolved administration to London, “That’s your job in London. Sort it out. You know these people”. That was the view, which is probably fair enough.
MH: Yes, but it just seemed you kept risking more and more and more.
RdC: So the process of agreeing changes to the funding agreement was all about the payments and the timing of the payments.
MH: And then there was a payment just before the election, which I’m trying to locate. It was the end of April, 22 and 26 April is what sticks in my mind, there was given a further payment outside the terms of the original agreement that was given just before the election.
RdC: Was there? I don’t know. I looked —
MH: And which I think is in purdah and I can’t understand why you —
RdC: Did you speak to Howard about the rules of a pre-election period?
MH: He was going to come back to me.
RdC: Because it’s about announcements, not decisions, that was their deal, but —
MH: It isn’t, it ‘s about decisions as well. I can’t believe it’s not decisions.
RdC: No, I — well, that’s one for Howard, but —
MH: He’s going to come back. He hasn’t come back yet?
CH: He hasn’t.
RdC: I think as well, Margaret, that’s after I’d left. This carried on after I left, obviously.
MH: When did you leave?
RdC: In April. Can’t remember the date, but there was a payment after I left.
MH: So that last April payment was after you left?
RdC: I think —
MH: 22 and 26 April?
RdC: I’m trying to think of the day I left now. I left before the election, so that could be the week after I’d left, yes. So I’d already handed over my stuff.
MH: Let me see if I can get to the right documents. Sorry to keep you on this one. This is the management stuff. Here you are: 25 April 2016, right?
MH: “Letter to B Emmett from Richard.”
MH: So you were still there. Another variation and they got a further payment of £1.3 million.
MH: I’ve put myself a note here, “It looks like it was set aside to meet all bills if they default”.
RdC: Well, is that a payment or the guarantee? I forget, because there were —
RdC: — changes to the guarantees that happened since, which I —
MH: They got a single payment of £1.3 million just before the election, which I would have thought would be under purdah, but we are checking that.
MH: And you don’t remember what that was for, do you?
RdC: No, I can’t. Well, it probably says in the letter. It’s probably one of the agreed amendments to the funding agreement.
MH: It’s a variation?
MH: It’s a variation to the funding agreement.
RdC: Yes, so the funding agreement initially had this much money on this date in blocks. And conditions around it.
MH: It’s really the thing I was looking at with pre- and post-.
RdC: Yes. At the time, we didn’t — we had indicative money dates and conditions around it for each of these things and they were reviewed a number of times and that was one of those reviews.
MH: And were you just keeping them afloat?
RdC: We were keeping the project going, but that doesn’t mean we were doing that without assessing what the risk was of the project not progressing. So in each case we looked at what’s the money for; how does it align to the conditions in the funding agreement; is it demonstrating they are progressing and reducing the risk?
MH: This is the variation? Sorry to keep saying that, but this is the variation?
RdC: Yes. I think they’re all variations, because the actual — the commitment to the money is in the funding agreement, so we’d already agreed to give the money. It was variations to those things that are being documented.
MH: And the variations that are documented are mainly taken out of construction into preconstruction?
RdC: Yes, it’s bringing spend forward.
MH: You’re keeping them afloat, that’s what it feels like.
RdC: Well, it’s probably partly keeping the project going, but it’s also recognising that there are more activities being done preconstruction than post-construction. One of the things that they were doing, because Bouygues were already under contract at that point — so when you let a construction contract, normally the first six months to a year is design. You don’t start building on day one; you do all the further detailed design. So actually, they brought forward that detailed design activity early, so when they did conclude all the agreements on land, they could actually start the digging. So we were bringing forward elements of work that would otherwise be in the construction phase and that was part of the rationale. That isn’t a bad thing to do. It does mean that you’re committing further expenditure upfront but that was a judgement that TfL took in the context of everything else and the support for the project.
MH: Even at the end of April, just in the run-up to a mayoral election?
RdC: So there’s a point about decisions. It’s not decisions, that’s the advice that we, as an organisation —
MH: Honestly, I was the Leader in Islington and you wouldn’t spend money, you couldn’t spend money. You were stopped from spending. I can’t believe that the Mayor —
RdC: Well, that’s a point for Howard, because that not the rules. Never mind this, TfL is doing lots and lots of things —
MH: Of course you’ve got to carry on spending, but anything like this, because it’s a variation, so it wasn’t even an expenditure on the existing agreement, which of course you would carry on spending, but a variation on a contract on a controversial issue within days of the election seems odd. That’s the best I can tell you.
RdC: Well, these things are all tested by TfL, by Howard.
MH: So Howard’s going to come back.
RdC: These were all decisions that Howard made as the Chief.
MH: Can I take you to the operational plan?
RdC: Yes, which is one of the conditions in the funding agreement, having an operational plan. That’s the status of it.
MH: Except that the Mayor goes up on LBC Question Time and says, “I’m not going to spend any money on this. There’s no public money going on this” and then the wording changes quite significantly. It goes from, “We’re not going to spend anything” to, “You’ve got to demonstrate you’ve got five years’ worth of money in the bank” to, “You’ve got to have a sort of credible strategy”.
RdC: Yes, business plan and whatever it was, yes. Why did it change?
RdC: So there’s Mayoral Directions on this, so —
MH: So you were told, you had to listen up?
RdC: The process that we went through was — the relationship between TfL and the Mayor’s office is briefing them on the outstanding issues and progress. One of the issues that we had around Garden Bridge, to meet a Lambeth condition.
MH: It was a Westminster condition.
RdC: There’s some, conditionality around operations and maintenance and that —
MH: They didn’t want to be lumped with it.
RdC: Yes, and the thing that became apparent during that process, for any new crossing like this is that there are quite significant obligations the PLA impose around guarantees and “what if” scenarios by the River Authority. This came through a process of negotiation with the PLA about the river works licence and it became clear that some of the kind of guarantees that they were seeking, which go the heart of the maintenance of the structure, couldn’t be covered by a charitable trust because what they were looking for is a commitment around “what if” scenarios.
There was a whole thing about what do you have to do to satisfy the authorities when you’re building in the river, what do you need to do to satisfy the planning authorities about operations and maintenance concerned about different things. And through that process it became clear that there needed to be some sort of ongoing commitment from the mayoralty to underwrite some of these elements, otherwise it wouldn’t happen.
Our role was to put the advice to the Mayor and say, “This is the problem. These people are asking for that, these people can’t do it” and then we were directed on the back of that to have the guarantees in place. So that was sort of part of the overall —
MH: So again, it was these weekly meetings?
RdC: Yes, there is a weekly or fortnightly meeting between TfL and the Mayor where there’s a whole agenda of things that get talked about. It’s the business between the Mayor and TfL and that’s where these things get discussed.
MH: Actually, interestingly enough, we have got one Isabel meeting where a lot of these things were discussed with you.
RdC: Yes, I know. I was there, yes. God, it’s like I feel guilty by association. You’ve got to remember, when you’re operating under mayoral — you are doing your job. This was my job to do this. I know it feels funny because you think it’s not real transport, but this was the job I was told to do. It was in my objectives, we were directed four times by the Mayor to get on with it. It’s irrelevant whether we think it’s good, you’ve got to do your job —
RdC: So that was the context of the operation.
MH: When you looked at that operational plan, did you think it was credible?
RdC: Yes, so we spent – not me, we, TfL — because we had other colleagues who have got a background in finance looking at this.
MH: You thought it was a credible plan?
RdC: Actually, we thought they were underselling elements of it. We thought there was an opportunity to generate more third-party income from things like retail and merchandising than what they were doing. So we pushed them very hard. If you think about the Garden Bridge and its location, the potential for generating income from merchandising is huge. It’s an iconic structure. So we pushed them very hard on secondary revenue, food, merchandising.
We thought there was a credible business plan that made that work, but we also recognise that for a charitable trust to stand behind what the PLA was asking for was almost impossible and to accept the personal liabilities. And that will be exactly the same for the Rotherhithe footbridge, because what the PLA ask for is really — it’s only the public authority that can deliver it, really. And we didn’t know that at the start.
MH: Is it your view that they can raise the cash? You may not be able to answer this, but is it your view that the bridge could now be built and maintained? Do you think they will raise the money for everything?
RdC: I think it’s incredibly difficult for them at the moment because of this question mark through your review and the general positioning, so I think it’s very difficult for a charitable trust to raise money in this climate. And I think some of the funders they were talking to, big names like Wellcome Trust, who were very interested in it for very good reasons, will be pausing and waiting to see what happens.
I think for something iconic in that location, I think the progress they made, I think there is potential to generate that money. It’s easier to generate capital money than running costs, but I think there’s enough income-generating opportunity, including the partial closures — the opportunity to use it for events, which was a really important part of that funding stream. It does generate money, £3.5 million a year.
It doesn’t need a lot of maintenance in the early years. Actually, the bit that requires most maintenance and a very careful plan is the garden, and this is where the Trust have done some really useful, interesting things working with different voluntary groups, charities and different organisations to get a volunteer workforce in the garden. And that’s what other gardens do. I think there’s a huge potential in that.
MH: Yes. And just your view – have you got a view on where the cap on costs might end up?
RdC: Well, it’s interesting, because they secured a good price from Bouygues, so when it gets reported that this thing cost a hundred and whatever, the construction cost isn’t, the construction cost is about £100 million. What costs everything else is all the other stuff like the fees that have already been spent, land compensation and £20 million-odd of VAT back to the Government. So the Government’s contribution comes back to them.
MH: Is it your view that the loan will ever be repaid?
RdC: Yes, so the TfL loan?
MH: The 50 year —
RdC: Over time, yes. 50 years is 50 years, isn’t it?
MH: Yes. Well, they might not exist in 50 years.
RdC: Well, if they don’t, somebody will have stepped in to pick up that obligation.
MH: A public authority.
RdC: Well, not necessarily. City Bridge Trust.
MH: They weren’t very keen when you approached them, were they?
RdC: No, they weren’t. It’s not in the city, which was an issue for them, and it was partly timing and partly all this interest, it just went off the scale very quickly, which made it very difficult for fundraising.
MH: So you didn’t quite answer the question. Do you think they’ll do it within —
RdC: The money they’ve got from the public sector?
MH: The money they’ve got from the public sector and within the overall envelope on capital. We’re not talking about the maintenance.
RdC: I’ve tried to have no involvement in the project since I left, but what I know is that they have managed to fix the price with Bouygues, so the contract price that Bouygues bid and won, they’ve managed to hold Bouygues to that, which is a very competitive price. The obvious thing that the Trust have to do is to sort out the land with Iain Tuckett and to get that sorted. That’s nearly been done so many times, and as you say, you know Iain Tuckett, and he has the ability, at the very last minute, to …
MH: But you knew that, you see, that’s what so odd about it.
RdC: Well, no, no, we knew —
MH: I’ve known them down the years, Coin Street. They’re always difficult to deal with.
RdC: Well, no, so I’ve been in front of the Coin Street board. Again, people tend to think of Coin Street as Iain, but it’s actually a board, it’s run as a board. There was a lot of engagement with Coin Street and the commitment they gave about supporting it was very strong and their position changed.
MH: From the board?
RdC: From the organisation, yes, from the top. What caused Coin Street to flutter was the negative reaction locally and the Lambeth issue that came through the political process.
MH: Yes. And do you think the Trust did enough consultation with local people in the early days?
RdC: I think so. The original consultation was done by TfL, so TfL did the planning application and then the Trust picked that up. I think the Trust actually did a lot of consultation when they took responsibility for it. I think it was very difficult. It’s very difficult to do anything on the South Bank. There’s a lot of history of people challenging everything. I think they did a lot of consultation.
MH: But if you compare it to putting up the Wheel, because there were —
RdC: They did more consultation than that. People have reinvented history about the Wheel, about it’s all fantastic, everyone loves it. You remember at the time people did not want the Wheel to happen.
MH: Yes, yes.
RdC: So they did a lot of consultation. Maybe it was too late because the views have become entrenched. It had become quite political with ward members in Lambeth versus what the leadership in Lambeth were doing and that made things very difficult, because the leadership in Lambeth were supportive and the local ward members were negative. That created a lot of friction locally.
MH: Do you know, I think I’m there.
RdC: You had enough?
MH: Well, you’ve probably had enough too.
RdC: I probably have.
MH: Let me just do a final check. I may come back to you, Richard, I’m really sorry.
RdC: I can do. Yes, I’m very happy to, if it helps.
MH: I think I’ve probably —
RdC: I’m happy to give you as much as I can remember, which I can remember quite a lot. And I’m not concealing anything. I’ve got no — I’ve got no agenda to try and present this in a particular way. I’ve got nothing to gain either way.
MH: No, I think you’re lumbered with it.
RdC: Well, hopefully it ‘s not just me personally is lumbered with it.
MH: I’m seeing lots of people.
RdC: But that’s how it feels sometimes. Given the job I was asked to do, it’s described as a hospital pass, but —
MH: Yes, yes. Do you know, I think we’ve done the lot.
RdC: Oh, I think the volume of material is huge. There’s no —
MH: This is my notes from what I’ve read so far. Ridiculous.
RdC: There’s no other project quite like it. One of the criticisms that’s been put at this is it didn’t go through the proper planning process, which it absolutely did. So part of the noise coming from the South Bank —
MH: But, for example, one of the things the Trust said to me was that this thing about who owns the air above Temple, all that complicated stuff.
RdC: Yes, yes, which was actually —
MH: But it’s predictable. That’s why when I think, should they have let the Bouygues contract — well, you know it’s so complicated if you’re going to build on top of Temple, you know you’re going to spend — it’s going to take you a year to sort that out. You know it is, anybody who’s done any massive construction, where they think Westminster held them up.
RdC: That was known though. All the issues, we did a lot of work to —
MH: Did they know that?
RdC: Yes, certainly.
MH: Well, they’re now saying it’s taken them longer than they thought.
RdC: It has taken longer, because they’re not in control and Westminster need to do things and that’s the bit that’s been delayed.
MH: Yes, but they knew that. Well, Westminster says it has been doing it, it’s just a complicated thing.
RdC: Well, Westminster agreed to a timetable and then changed the timetable.
MH: Oh right, they did.
RdC: They did, yes.
MH: Okay. Well, I didn’t know that.
RdC: There’s a whole series of steps that have to be taken. I can’t remember in what order, but it’s to do with extinguishing certain rights and bringing —
MH: We are there. I think I’ve done everything. Probably going to read some more rubbish. Thank you.
RdC: No, I’ve given you that, which is that personal information about me. I’m happy to leave it with you, but I’d appreciate if it didn’t go — because it is me applying for a job.
MH: Yes, yes.
RdC: But I think given the suggestion that this is — my role in Arup is somehow connected to it, I wanted you to see that.
MH: Yes, thank you. Okay, thanks very much indeed.
RdC: When do you think you’re going to be done?
MH: I was hoping I would do all the interviews before Christmas, but they’re getting rather more difficult, and I was hoping to write it — I’m away, I’m actually on two weeks’ holiday. I’m only just trying to do a day a week. You don’t know what else I’ve got on my plate. I’ve got quite a lot on my plate.
RdC: No, I know. Well, I probably do know what, you’ve got loads on your plate.
MH: So I was hoping end of January. I think now, more realistically, it’s going to be a month or two after that. People are being a bit difficult about providing dates or coming to see me and I’ve just got to see them, otherwise I’m not going to add value.
RdC: Did you say you’re seeing the former Mayor?
MH: I hope to. He’s obviously key, isn’t he?
MH: And if he doesn’t want to see me, that says quite a lot.