Garden Bridge Review: Garden Bridge Trust Transcript (Part 1)


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.


The interview took place on 21 November 2016. Present were Dame Margaret Hodge MP (MH), Margaret Kalaugher (MK), Lord Mervyn Davies (MD), Paul Morrell (PM), John Heaps (JH) and Bee Emmott (BE) of the Garden Bridge Trust.

MH: I’m going to start by saying two things: we are recording. Are you all right not putting it in? Is it working okay, this?

MK: Yes.

MH: Simply because then nobody can say, “I didn’t say that”, “I did say that” if that’s all right. We will transcribe it and you’re very welcome to have a copy of it but that’s literally so that nobody can argue because I’m on my own so it sort of slightly makes it difficult. I’m still early in what I’m doing so if I may, if there are things that come up later on when I chat to other people, if I can talk to you again that will be incredibly helpful.

MD: Yes, a pleasure.

MH: We’ll see what we get through today. I mean they have landed me with stuff like this so in between trying to do everything else I’m trying to do it’s sort of, you know, as I go through further material, there are endless FOls and ridiculous stuff like that that I’m having to look through, all on my tot.
So, I don’t know who wants to start. Do you want to just start talking about early days, how you came in to all this and how the whole thing emerged. And just do remember I’m honestly not — don’t try and convince me of the pluses or the minuses of it because I am staying absolutely neutral. People are trying to convince me it’s a good idea, it’s a bad idea, but I’m trying to be completely neutral on the actual, “Should we be doing this or shouldn’t we?”. It’s just process and VFM [value for money] really that I’m after.

MD: When I was in government, David Miliband asked me if I would look after the Shanghai Expo project which Thomas had designed and so that was my first interaction with Thomas, as you know. That project was a huge success for the UK and came in on budget and on plan and had extraordinary visitor numbers. So that led to my getting to know Thomas and so when the project was moving at the GLA stage into needing a charity Thomas asked me whether I would be interested in being the chairman, together with Paul actually and Bee, interested in being chairman of the charitable trust of the vehicle that would eventually take ownership of the project and I —

MH: So the idea that there should be a trust came from?

MD: Came from, right from the outset.

PM: I don’t know that the vehicle did I think the TfL had already posited that there would be a charity and they’d drawn a structure —

MD: Yes. They’d drawn a structure.

PM: — and therefore Thomas was looking to populate it.

MH: They looked to Thomas to populate it and where was Joanna at this point?

PM: Well, they couldn’t.

MH: She wasn’t…

PM: She was —

MH: So it was a TfL concept?

PM: Yes.

JH: As I understand it. Well, you were all there at the background to that.

BE: Yes, there were — I think —

MH: Were you around at that point?

BE: Yes, so —

MH: Where were you at that point?

BE: So I was working at Heatherwick Studio at that point and so —

MH: You were working at Heatherwick.

BE: I was at Heatherwick Studio and Heatherwick had won — I wasn’t involved in the Garden Bridge competition, it wasn’t a project I had anything to do with at the beginning. So, they had won the tender and you’ll know all about that from speaking to Thomas and TfL and so on, and TfL had committed £5 million to get whatever project had won that tender through to planning permission, to get it planning consent but they had always said they would not deliver the project.

And so, as I understood it, from memory they were exploring what the options were and one of the options was a charitable kind of vehicle that would deliver the project and be responsible for the fundraising and the delivery of it, so would take over from TfL at the point of receiving planning consent. And so, that’s the point that I think Mervyn got involved, it was sort of summer of 2013 and then the charity was set up in November of 2013.

MH: Right.

MD: And then we did a skills matrix of what sort of skills the Trust would require, what sort of trustees and then we put a team together that was – would be equipped to handle a project of great complexity but an iconic project and obviously we didn’t take the project on in totality until much later.

MH: What does that mean?

MD: Well, we were effectively working side by side with TfL.

MH: So you were appointed in — after the —

BE: So I was seconded – as I was saying I wasn’t part of the Garden Bridge project at Heatherwicks, I was seconded separately as a Heatherwick employee across to the Trust so working for Mervyn. And then I moved across formally, I left Heatherwick Studio and I became a full time employee of the Trust in April of 2014.

MH: Right, okay. And just some idea of how you got together this bunch of people because it’s sort of — I mean, you know all the — I’m having to look at all the sort of allegations that there are around. You were approached by Heatherwick —

MD: Hold that. What sort of allegations?

MH: Well, let’s just leave it like that. I’m having to look at the processes whereby — well, let’s have a look at the trustees for a minute, if I can find the bit of paper, that were on the Trust. Have you got that? Have we got the trustees?

MD: But that’s — sorry, can I just go back a step and ask what’s the remit of this?

MH: The remit is value for money and process, okay? It’s public money, you know, up to £60 million. Well however much it is, we’ll find out how much you’ve spent to date but this is public money being spent, so is it value for money and have the processes been appropriate for the expenditure of public money; that’s all. So it’s all the stuff —

JH: Except you’re then looking at allegations. You say there’s allegations that you’re looking into about the charity. We are – we have to be a bit careful because you know, because the Mayor has been so clear on his press release on the subject that the Charity Commission is currently looking at the charity.

MH: I know the Charity Commission is —

JH: So, how many people do we answer our questions to?

MH: I’ve no idea, it’s up to you. What I’m hoping is that you’ll help me to do the job that I’ve been given by the Mayor. If you choose not to I will of course reflect that in the way that I write the report.

JH: No, we’re not saying that.

PM: We’re not choosing not to, nothing like that.

JH: I think we simply need to understand at the beginning if there are allegations, what are you concentrating on because the impression I got a few minutes ago was that there were allegations about, in the way you termed it, the bunch of people that Mervyn put together. So, I think we need —

MH: I just want to know how you’ve come together.

JH: But, Margaret, what’s the allegation?

MH: I’m not going to be drawn on that. I want to see how you drew that group of people together. I want to know how you drew that group of people together. And if I can find some way — well, you’ve got them, can you let me see where the membership is? I’ve got it somewhere. Will I get it immediately, now? Okay.

MD: Well, as I mentioned previously, I’ve run a number of major charitable organisations, I think, and boards of directors. The first thing you do is you look at the task in hand, you look at the skills that are going to be required, particularly when, as you say, it involves public money. That’s exactly what we did. So we drew up a skills matrix of the types of skills that would be required in construction, in communications, in fundraising, in the legal issues, and then we put a team together that reflected that.

We have property expertise, we have construct ion expertise, legal expertise, fundraising expertise and project management expertise. And also, because Joanna [Lumley] had been involved in the, sort of, the original idea, we thought it — I thought and so did the other trustees, a good idea for her to be a trustee as well. So, I’m highly confident or, you know, certain that we put together a trust with the right skills to cope with a complex project, an iconic project and one that was a mix of public and private money.

MH: Have you got a list? I’m really sorry, I’m just not finding that.

BE: I don’t have a list on me, no.

MD: We can send it to you.

BE: I can send you one.

MH: Right. No, I’ve got it somewhere I just wanted to go through them.

BE: Or it’s on our website actually which might be easier if you’ve got WiFi here.

MH: That might be the easiest way to do it, might it not? I’m just trying to – I have got it somewhere. It’s just — to be absolutely honest, it took me so long to get in that my getting ready before – which is what I was hoping to do – I haven’t been able to do. So I have got the bit of paper somewhere. Shall we just see if it’s on your website?

BE: Yes, it is. Let me see if I can get it.

MH: I’m really sorry about this, this is my —

MD: No, that’s fine.

BE: Yes, so if you scroll down, Mervyn’s at the top and then just scroll down.

MH: Thank you so much. Thanks for doing that. Right.

BE: Because it’s probably worth just saying as well, when we set up – when the charity was set up in November 2013 it was a totally separate charitable entity, separate from TfL, separate from anything else. TfL were given an observer status so they sit on our board meetings, they attend every board meeting so they have full oversight of the decisions the Trust makes. But the private — we secured very early on private sector funding to cover the operations of the Trust so the public sector funding isn’t going to any of the operations of the Trust or to any of our employees and so on.

MH: Yes, no, I understood that from the —

BE: So any funding from the public sector is all towards infrastructure.

MH: You didn’t bring anybody – I’ll tell you one of the things that surprised me is there was nobody from the local community anywhere. You didn’t sort of think of bringing anybody, for example Coin Street where your —

MD: Well, Coin Street would be conflicted, wouldn’t they? Coin Street would – you know, we’ve had, for the last three years, huge involvement with Coin Street; I’m meeting them tomorrow. I think they would be conflicted, don’t you think?

BE: We have to do a commercial negotiation with Coin Street.

MD: We have to do an independent commercial negotiation with them and I think that putting them as a trustee of a charity, I think would be wrong. But I think it’s important to stress that the — that is obviously — we’re straying into the issue of the operation and the making of a charitable trust which is, you know, obviously is being looked at separately. But rest assured we looked at the make-up of the Trust, make-up of the —

MH: Were they people who contributed? Did you go for, in the way that you might run other charitable organisat ions, were they people who were willing to put money in to support the bridge given that it’s a private —

MD: No, we looked at — as you know, we’ve had great success on fundraising.

MH: We’ll come to that.

MD: Well, okay. But we have had great success on fundraising. The most important thing is to look at what the project needed to make sure that the individuals have the necessary skills, make sure that they had the time commitment to commit as volunteers to a hugely complex project. And rest assured we have had that type of trust, hugely engaged and that’s all I would say really.

MH: Okay. So Clare Foges, for example, brought what?

MD: Communication and digital skills, huge experience in digital campaigning, social media skills and writing skills.

MH: And connections.

MD: No, I didn’t bring her on for connections. I brought her on because she’s young, she’s got massive skills in social media and has put those to work as —

MH: And how did you know her, just —

MD: Sorry?

MH: How did you know her?

MD: Rohan Silva was involved right at the outset and then found that he was too busy. You know, I think in having run a number of independent charities you want people that are engaged and have the skills.

MH: Okay, thank you.

MD: But you picked one trustee.

MH: Well, I was just looking through the list. I just wondered, you know, how you’d collected the group together.

MD: By looking at the skills matrix and going and talking to one or two head hunters on the sort of people that were around. Obviously Paul has huge construction experience so we needed that. You’ll see that we also got people with project management experience, so we have a Trust that was well equipped for the task.

JH: And in the early days I think it’s true to say that we shared our proposals for trustees with TfL and with the Mayor’s office. We didn’t consult but we advised.

MD: We made sure that the stakeholders were happy with the make-up of the Trust.

MH: And the stakeholders were TfL and the Mayor.

MD: The Mayor.

MH: Okay. It’s difficult to know where to go to next. Can I just get some feel of where is your expenditure to date out of the public money?

BE: £36.4 million.

MH: £36.4 million. And your —

BE: But we’ve since had a claim from the Mayor’s office via TfL for a further £990,000 to be clawed back, historical costs.

MH: Right, that’s from their £5 million?

BE: That’s from their total £30 million contribution. So that’s added on to the £36.4 million.

MH: Yes, but they’re claiming that for work done out of the £5 million that they assessed that they would need.

BE: Some out of the £5 million previously and — as in some that was done —

MH: The £5 million is on top of the £30 million?

BE: No, the £5 million is part of it.

MH: It’s part of it. Okay, right.

BE: And before the Trust took full control of the project, which was in July 2015, TfL had spent £9. 7 million and we took a long time to get that exact figure so that we as a charity were taking on, you know, known expenditure, so we had that all documented.

And then in September this year, 2016, we got a claim for a further £990,000 and that’s for some historic costs prior to July 2015 when the Trust took over and some is costs since July 2015 on protecting their own assets within things like London Underground has to do certain work, so covering those sort of things.

MH: Okay.

MD: Shall we get Bee to give you an update on where we’re at on the project, would that be helpful?

MH: Yes, that would be really good. Go on, so where are you now?

BE: So, we got planning consent at the end of 2014 and we obviously spent 2015 and some of 2016 discharging all of our planning conditions, we had 40-odd planning conditions from both Westminster and Lambeth, we’ve discharged almost all of those now. And then in parallel we were securing the land so on the north side Westminster —

MH: I want to come back to discharging — the certainty about the maintenance and the management income.

BE: Okay.

MH: Because that was a key planning permission, wasn’t it, from both?

BE: Yes, that’s a — it’s a planning condition, it’s pre-construction but it’s once we’ve got the interest in the land and we haven’t yet got the interest in the land.

MH: Yes, but when you say “discharged” that was the — I would like to come back to that.

BE: Okay. We then, in parallel, have been doing the land negotiations, so on the north side we’ve got Westminster Council who have to go through a fairly complex process by which the land on the top of Temple roof where we land has to change ownership. So, we’ve been in discussion with them for about a year and they’re about to hopefully – they wrote to us a couple of weeks ago to say they’re intending to start the process by the end of this month.

MH: Start the process for getting —

BE: For exchanging the land so that we have the interest in the land so we can put in the infrastructure.

MH: Is it their land not TfL land?

BE: The roof of the station is TfL’s and the air space above is Westminster and then the Duke of Norfolk has protective rights over it. So it’s complicated. It’s not a process they do often. And then on the south side we have to do a negotiation with Lambeth Council and the Coin Street Community Builders, so Lambeth are the freeholder of the land and Coin Street have a long lease.

MH: Yes.

BE: So we’ve been talking to them. Coin Street was one of the first stakeholders we went to see about the project and they have always maintained that they will support the project as long as government, the Mayor, both councils want the project to succeed they won’t stand in the way. So we have, at some points, made quite good progress on negotiations and at other points it’s been slower because of the various interventions externally that have taken place. So we’re now in a place where we are hopeful that we can conclude negotiations by the end of the year.

MH: What makes you confident that you will conclude those to do with Coin Street? I don’t see what – where’s the – I haven’t seen the evidence of that confidence. They seem to have moved. I mean, I was going to ask you about that because it seemed to me that in the early days, I don’t know when you started talking to Coin Street.

PM: Three years ago.

MD: They’re the first people we saw.

MH: Pardon?

PM: They were the first people we saw.

BE: The first people we spoke to.

MH: The first people you saw.

PM: On the grounds that there could be no bridge if we couldn’t have some land for it.

MH: Quite.

MD: And the Mayor’s office, everybody’s been involved with them.

MH: And they seemed to have moved in a —

BE: Well, we are — in July this year —

MH: — more negative than positive direction.

MD: Well, that’s hearsay. I mean, the fact is that — sorry?

BE: Yes, no, carry on.

MH: I’ve actually talked to some of them.

MD: Well then, they’re being duplicitous. I mean, the whole spirit of — there is no bridge without Coin Street.

MH: Quite.

MD: So, there is no bridge. So, the Mayor’s had involvement with Coin Street, every —

MH: Which mayor?

BE: Sadiq Khan.

MD: Both Sadiq Khan and —

BE: His chief of staff has facilitated a number of meetings this summer to try and conclude negotiations with the three parties.

MD: So, both mayors, TfL, everybody. Even conversations involving the Department of Transport, everybody has had deep discussions and involvement with Coin Street. They have made public pronouncements on a regular basis that they’re in favour of the bridge and, Paul, you might — and they would have had to be —

PM: They are difficult people.

MD: They’re difficult people to negotiate with.

PM: I’ve dealt with them where I did a similar thing with Rambert Dance and it took two years. After that they gave Rambert two years to conclude the agreement. So I remember saying in the very early days to Mervyn, “This will not be easy”. I think what is true to say is they’ve raised the bar throughout the conversation. But all the time confirmed what they intend to do there.

MD: Yes, but, you know, it is a difficult negotiation.

PM: The sum package that will go to Coin Street is more than the net amount being given by the Mayor to the project. It’s more than £10 million, the value of the package that’s going to them.

MH: Yes.

MD: Shall we go back to… ?

BE: So — sorry.

MH: Go on.

BE: So, once —

MH: So you’ve got the — yes, when you get that then you can move.

BE: Yes, then we can sign our section 106 agreement which is the agreement we have with each council and then we can discharge the remaining planning conditions which are things like our operation and maintenance plan.

MH: Yes, which we’ll come back to.

BE: So in parallel we also went through our own procurement to select our construction contractor. We appointed our construction contractor on —

MH: How did you do that; did you do that in a —

BE: I haven’t had anything at all to do with that.

MH: — completely open —

PM: Because we’re not bound by EU procurement rules, we nonetheless agreed with TfL that we would act as if we were. It was therefore advertised and went through an entirely transparent process operated for us by Arup. I was involved in interviews throughout. The recommendation came from them not from the trustees as to who we should appoint.

MH: From?

PM: From people who are operation and process (Inaudible). I mean, I had quite strong feelings. Actually I changed my mind as to who I thought the strongest offer was and then they recommended the people I thought had the strongest offer anyway. So it was Arup.

MH: Arup?

PM: Arup. Arup ran the process for us.

MH: Arup ran the process for you.

PM: Yes.

MH: And are Arup still employed by the Trust now or by TfL?

PM: By the Trust.

BE: The Trust.

MH: By the Trust, so you took over the contract that TfL had —

PM: No, we created a new one.

MH: You created a new one.

PM: Yes.

MH: Right.

BE: That was when we took over the project in July 2015.

MH: Right. But I mean you had no option really but to continue with Arup at that point.

PM: We had no wish to either but we’d preferred the better deal than the one we thought had been done by TfL; they awarded it on a cost plus basis and we couldn’t live with that.

MH: Are they still on a cost plus basis?

PM: No, we couldn’t live with that.

MH: So what are they on with you?

PM: They’re on a fixed fee.

MH: For what?

PM: To deliver the job and now they’re on a —

MH: Even with delays and what have you, is that all — how does that pan out in the current [overspeaking]

PM: Because of the delay we’ve had to date we will need to renegotiate with them here forward but we want to tie down [overspeaking]

MH: Okay. Can you explain to me, Paul, this is pretty — why did you let the contract before you had the permissions?

PM: Because there was a huge amount inside the various consents that could only be worked out with the contractor. So if you look at the planning — all the planning conditions for example, we needed to know absolutely how we would build the job. So we needed somebody who was going to build the job aboard at that early stage. Also we had, at that stage —

MH: But is that most sensible way? If it’s clear that, you know, without Coin Street there is no bridge, committing yourself to and then, you know, seeking underwriting from government seems to me —

PM: Well, if we didn’t believe that we would not do a deal with Coin Street then we wouldn’t have done it, no. But we were all the time seeking the assurance —

MH: But belief is one thing but the certainty of having those — I mean the NAO [National Audit Office] report is pretty critical at that.

PM: Well it’s an easy game to play it backwards, isn’t it? You know, every project I’ve ever worked on has to keep moving and you do so on the basis of your best estimate of what the outcome’s going to be. So, yes, you know, there are risks in that but they are [overspeaking]

MH: But risks are not to the Trust at the moment, the risks are to government.

PM: As it happens, yes.

MH: Well, because you negotiated that, didn’t you?

PM: And because the underwriter did, yes.

MH: Yes, it was the underwriter.

PM: An alternative was to stop and that was the choice we gave them.

MH: And there was no other way of designing it so that you could have had a more limited exposure?

PM: No, I think if we had known then where we are now we might have – there are some things that we got — we needed to do to be ready to start construction, which is to say it’s better going backwards, we might have said that it might not have been done.

MH: Like?

PM: Like starting to look at the construction of barges for example, to move the thing up the river and so on. We can show you absolutely how every penny got spent through the process as we’ve done with the Charity Commission.

MD: We’ll give you the chart of how it’s spent and what the timing was.

PM: I have no doubt that, you know, as I say, with the wisdom of hindsight you could say, “Well, you know, you could have not done that”. All the time the consequences of not doing it would have been delay. We were, in the early days, trying to operate against a deadline that was set by Thames Tideway and then by the fact that we knew we were in an inflationary market for construction. We wanted to get into the market and get a price tied down, which we did.

JH: And also maintain momentum on the fundraising side.

MH: Yes. We’ll come to that. But I mean, don’t tell me there aren’t clauses in the contract that will cost you more because of the delay. So how did you defend yourself against inflation in the contract?

PM: Inflation?

MH: Against inflation in the contract.

PM: You can’t defend —

MH: You said you wanted to sign an early — you wanted to sign the contract early because you wanted to protect yourself against inflation.

PM: Well, no, because we wanted to get into a marketplace in time to tie them down against an assumed programme and we had no reason at that —

MH: Yes, but given the delay, the delay will mean that the contract will now go on.

PM: Absolutely. Yes, of course. But again, that’s a case of saying now, knowing there will be delay. But also, all the time we had the ability to stop that arrangement with them.

MH: And then £9 million that you’ve currently got underwritten by government, is that sufficient or what – you originally were at 13 and you got £13.5 million from the previous —

MD: Shall we go back to where we were and maybe, Bee, you take us through where we’re up to and that’ll explain it mostly?

BE: So, we got our contractor on board and we appointed them in February 2015 – 2016, sorry. And then what we had to do because of delays which were — there were a number of things but Westminster hadn’t started their process so we weren’t going to get the land in the timeframe we had anticipated. It was taking them longer than they’d envisaged. Coin Street, we hadn’t got — secured a deal with them.

MH: What was the Westminster delay?

BE: It’s just taken them a lot longer to get through the internal process and understand what they’re comfortable with, what level of exposure they might have to live with.

MH: And that couldn’t have been predicted?

BE: They told us it was going to be a lot earlier than it has ended up being, I mean what it’s going to be.

MH: How much longer than they said?

BE: We’d been talking to them for about a year; we were expecting it to start at the beginning of this year.

MH: Explain that. You were expecting them to start the process in January 2016 and they’re going to start it probably January 2017.

BE: Yes.

MH: So it’s a year —

BE: Obviously they’ve never said to us, “It will be in a year” it’s been kind of month by month or, “It’ll be a couple of weeks” or “There’s this cabinet decision that’s coming up”.

MH: And you originally got planning permission from them in…

BE: 2014.

MH: So mid-2014, I can’t remember, was it sort of —

BE: It was the end of 2014.

MH: End of 2014 they said they would start the process 2015?

BE: Yes.

MH: You get into 2015 and they’re actually starting 2016.

BE: Yes.

MH: And none of that could be predicted?

BE: No, it’s a process they have to go through that they haven’t done for, you know, years and years so actually they had to go through a whole —

MH: What do you mean?

BE: In terms of it’s not something they do normally. This isn’t a standard process that they do and they’ve got kind of a process in place that they just tick a few boxes it’s something where they’re exposing themselves to —

MH: What’s so different?

BE: — opportunities for judicial reviews, all sorts of things. I mean that’s really a question for them I only know what they’ve told us which is, you know, that they expected it to be quicker than it was when it’s taken longer.

MH: I mean people build on their land all the time, I would have thought.

MD: It’s probably helpful to know that we had planning experts who were assisting us and there was no suggestion from them at any stage that that kind of problem was going to be encountered.

MH: Well I was going to say people must build on Westminster — I don’t understand the air and the ground but I mean people will build on their land the whole time. And TfL would build on their land.

PM: It’s public open space, isn’t it?

MD: Public open space and the threat of JRs [judicial reviews] I think.

BE: Yes, so you have to remove the fact that it’s public open space.

MD: Yes.

MH: Right. But you’re not on that — you’re going into that little garden there, aren’t you?

BE: No, we’re going on the top of Temple Station.

MH: But you’re not — so what’s the open space?

PM: The top of the station.

BE: The top of the station is public open space.

MH: That counts as public open space.

MD: Open space, yes. Yes.

MH: Very interesting.

BE: And we also had a judicial review lodged which was lodged on Lambeth Council for the process they went through in order to vary Coin Street’s lease to enable Coin Street to enter into a [overspeaking]

MH: When was the judicial review lodged? Was it before you let the contract or after?

BE: After we let the contract.

PM: Just on the letting of the contract. I said that we needed a contractor aboard. He was aboard under a pre-construction services agreement which is quite usual in the industry, so basically on a fee basis from that point.

MH: Fee for the stuff, the work they would do?

PM: What they were required to do in order to clear the conditions of planning and prepare for construction and so on. When we signed the contract there was actually no additional liability created by doing that than already existed under the pre-construction services agreement, but they were getting very anxious that they hadn’t got a long-term contract.

MH: Explain that to me, Paul, I’m not an expert on this.

PM: Normally when you sign a contract you’re committing to construction and you’ll have all kinds of implications if you walk away at that point like loss of profit. We wrote into the contract that those situations would not arise, in other words that we could terminate at any point on payment of their costs, which is exactly —

MH: On the pre-construction so you only —

PM: And on the main contract, it has the same [overspeaking]

MH: At what point do you get liable for loss of profit on the main contract?

PM: Never, unless we’re in breach.

MH: So why have you got this great big liability?

PM: Unless we were in breach. Because of all the time they spent. The liability to them is not to do with loss of profit, the liability to them is in respect of their costs to date which have basically all been paid and clear.

MH: Sorry?

PM: They’d been paid and clear. The liability that — so —

MH: So why do you need the underwriting on that?

PM: Because some of that money is being private money which will be subject to clawback.

MH: So you mean some of the contributions you’ve had from private donors —

PM: Some of the bills that we have paid have been paid with private donor money which is subject to clawback.

MH: And they will want it back if the bridge is not —

BE: Yes.

PM: And so before we incurred those liabilities we spoke to government and the TfL and said, you know, “We actually can’t proceed beyond the point when the charity is solvent so we now have a choice; we stop or it needs to be underwritten”. That’s what the underwriting is for.

BE: And DFT, when they did an audit, in the summer, of the Trust’s position, when Chris Grayling became the Secretary of State they did a full audit and they looked at what the clawback is for and the breakdown of that and so on. So, it’s very clear.

MD: And they were very comfortable with, you know, the arrangements put in place.

MH: None of the money is — all the money, all the private money you’ve got, that you have spent so far is all subject to clawback?

BE: No. So the operations of the Trust are completely underwritten.

MH: Yes, I understand that.

BE: And we’ve got some additional funders where the money is not subject to clawback, effectively they are happy for it to be spent at risk. But the significant funders, our major funders, clearly, the benefit of them giving the funding is the project is delivered. So if the project isn’t delivered we need to pay their money back.

MH: And how much of the money currently spent is subject to clawback if the bridge never goes ahead?

BE: It depends how you carve it up in — that’s a complicated question but of the money we’ve spent it’s about £5 million.

MH: So the £9 million, £30 million, why did you feel you originally needed £30.5m and then reduced to £9m?

BE: We needed £15m originally. We asked for £15m.

MH: And you got £30.

BE: We got £15m to cover us through to September and then because we weren’t able to proceed with construction at that point because we had the JR, we didn’t have the land in Westminster and Coin Street, we asked for an extension to cover us up to the new construction date which we hadn’t assessed because it costs a lot of money and a lot of stakeholder engagement to know the exact construction, the revised construction programme. And we asked for £15 million because that’s what we had forecast to cover us through to the start of construction. Now, obviously if we stop spending money we can keep it below that £15 million. So what we’ve done since the new government has given us the £9 million cap is reduced our expenditure as far as possible so that we can never exceed that £9 million cap.

MH: So what are you not doing?

MD: We’ve stood the contractor down.

PM: We’ve stood the contractor down, yes.

MD: We had no choice.

MH: So all that pre-construction stuff that you deemed necessary is not happening?

PM: No, we had – all the work necessary to get us through planning has been done.

MH: So what is not being done?

PM: No construction is being done so they’re not starting work, they’re not — we’ve let the team go obviously.

MD: We let the team go because with all these reviews and with the fact that the deal with Coin Street is not done, we need to know that, you know, we had to get the JRs out of the way and obviously there have been continuous reviews. So now we’re in a position where we have the fundraising, which we’re going to come to, the fund raisers, you know, the backers are still there and obviously we have a very good pipeline but clearly they’re waiting to see what happens.

PM: The original agreement had both a figure and a sunset date on it.

MH: What, the original agreement with the —

PM: The original underwriting had an agreement for September 2016.

MH: Yes, September 2016.

PM: So we just asked because JRs and everything else and because of the assignments with Westminster and Coin Street, we asked for that to be in the same amount but just to be extended for another year, which would — and then if that had happened then we would have been able to fund the contractor carrying on work so we are more ready.

MH: I’m sorry I’m being a bit dopey, I’m not a builder. So, you’ve stood the builder down, you’ve stood the contractor down. They’ve done enough work to get you through your planning permissions but if this scheme now goes ahead there will be a built in delay whilst they do what to enable you to stop the contract?

PM: As I say, it could go back to — there’s a lot of off-site fabrication that goes on at the front end of the project. Most of the job is not being built in situ it’s being built elsewhere. So there was a whole lot of preparatory work for that. Again, they have to buy barges to bring the stuff up river and so on. They will now have to reassemble their team which will have had time. We will get the team together until such time that it was clear that the delay was going to be so long by that that wouldn’t represent value. And then basically get all their pre-construction work in place. They have to get their site establishment —

MH: And have you any idea what the additional cost, if any, of them restarting, would you know?

PM: No, I think our best bet — I think we’re now north of £200 million.

MH: £200 million?

PM: Yes.

MH: As opposed to —

BE: £185 million.

MH: And that’s assuming a start in 2017?

PM: End of next year.

MH: End of 2017.

PM: Which is probably now the best we could do.

MD: Which is the best we have to do, yes.

PM: Well it’s what we have to do.

MD: Shall we go back to…

BE: Yes, so I suppose since we put the contractor on standby we’ve obviously been —

MH: But you’ll go back to the same contractor, just to get that clear?

BE: Yes. And so the intention was that we could conclude the final land deals with Westminster and Coin Street while the contractor’s on standby so reducing expenditure. We’ve carried on doing that and we have set a date of 16 December to try and conclude negotiations with Coin Street, and, as I said earlier, Westminster have said they’ll be starting their process by the end of this month. And that’s probably about where we’ve got to on construction planning and property and so on. And then we’ve obviously, in parallel, been doing fundraising which —

MH: Can you just get me through Thames — before we come to the Thames —

BE: Tideway Tunnel.

MH: — Tideway Tunnel because originally that had – you know, the idea was that you had to complete this before they started that work. That is now — they’ve decided you can do the two together, have they?

PM: I think so, yes. I mean, I think there was a — it was largely the PLA [Port of London Authority], I think, it just didn’t want any other traffic in the river —

BE: Too much activity in the river, yes.

PM: — once the soil is coming out of the tunnel. But I spoke to Andy Mitchell who’s the Chief Executive of the Thames Tideway and he was fairly new at the beginning of the project and he said, “Look, we’re both trying to do something good with the Thames, aren’t we? We just have to work this out”. They’ve looked at our construction methodology. The reality is that once our piers are built, the operations to actually put the bridge in place, so they’ll come up in massive, you know, 100 metre lengths up the river. They’re almost literally weekend jobs putting those things in place. They’ll come up — they’ll moor near where the bridge is being built and then the following weekend they’ll be swung into position. So actually the interruption of traffic is very limited.

MH: Why would it have interfered with the Tideway Tunnel in the first place?

PM: Because they didn’t know how we were going to build it so they assumed that we would be taking up a lot of river space whilst they’ve got their soil going down the river.

JH: Well, they thought we would be in the river.

MD: They didn’t want any traffic on the river and then when they realised we were constructing a lot of it off shore —

BE: Because Thames Tideway Tunnel is being constructed in the exact location of where the bridge is. You know, obviously not on it but —

MH: What, on the north side of the —

BE: North side.

MH: Right.

PM: By Blackfriars.

BE: In the river.

MH: In the river?

BE: Yes.

MH: Right, so it’s just quite close so you could actually — I can see, so if they’re taking over the river to — and putting a [overspeaking]

PM: Further downstream though.

BE: Yes, further downstream.

MH: Where, by Blackfriars Bridge?

PM: Yes.

MH: So the fear was that you would just —

BE: You’d have too much river traffic on that major construction.

MH: What about the other permissions, there’s some river licence?

PM: PLA, yes.

MH: What is that?

PM: Port of London Authority.

MH: What’s that for?

PM: Because —

MH: To allow you to use the river? So this is the same thing.

PM: No. They control anything that goes on in the river itself. So you’ve got the two councils on either side obviously and then the PLA controls whatever happens on the river. So you have to have a licence from the PLA.

MH: Right, and where is that?

PM: Pretty much sorted.

BE: We’ve got final form.

MH: And was there any problem with that?

BE: No, its —

PM: Guarantee.

BE: Yes, guarantee.

MH: Guarantee of what?

BE: The maintenance and operations. So we need to have —

MH: Of the bridge?

BE: Of the bridge, so you’ll be aware there’s a mayoral guarantee which the previous mayor has provided and the Port of London Authority need that as part of their agreement. So it’s in a final agreed form, it’s going to the committee, I think, December or January and at that point it will be considered by that committee.

MH: Why has there been a delay on that? Because there was another criticism in the NAO report that you hadn’t got that licence.

BE: We’ve got it in agreed form but until we’ve got the landing site we don’t need it until we’ve got the land and that’s when we would sign all the agreements together.

PM: My recollection is they wouldn’t talk about it for a long time until the mayoral position was clear.

JH: They want to know where the Mayor was, yes.

BE: They stalled when we had the new Mayor.

PM: There were two licences; there was a temporary licence for the work you do on the river and a permanent licence for the bridge itself.

MH: Right. What shall we get to next?

MD: Fundraising?

MH: Let’s go to the fundraising but I’ve got to find my right bit of paper. Let me see if I’ve got it here. Sorry. That’s expenditure. Brilliant, got it. I’ve got until August 2016.

MD: Yes, I mean, I think — sorry, go on.

BE: No, I was just going to say that’s probably the latest one provided to the Mayor.

MD: So we are, with virtually all of the names listed on there, we’re in continuous dialogue. Obviously there’s the press, uncertainty, independent reviews everywhere, it, you know, could have caused a lot of uncertainty amongst the donors but actually they’re very robust and the largest there is the Monument Trust. We presented to their trustees, what, a couple of weeks ago. They remain hugely supportive as do virtually all of the donors on the list. We have a pipeline, a very good pipeline. I think the challenge with the pipeline is a number of the large independent donors and corporations obviously want to see whether the bridge is happening and so I think there’s a degree of uncertainty amongst some of the future donors but the ones that are already committed remain hugely supportive of the project.

MH: I’ve read that you’ve lost some.

MD: Well, I think you read in the paper that we’d lost some.

MH: Yes. Is that true or isn’t it?

MD: Well, I mean, there was one company that was very engaged and very committed but there was a change of CEO and the new chief executive didn’t want to do the project because [overspeaking]

MH: Is that one of your anonymous or one of the —

MD: No, it’s not on the list.

BE: No, it’s not in there.

MD: So, you know, yes, it was nothing to do with the project itself it was to do with the change of chief executive in that company.

MH: And it was quite a big sum. I think it was £75 million.

MD: No.

BE: It was £10 million.

MD: No, it was £10 million.

MH: So the stuff in the press about you having lost £75 million is wrong?

MD: Is not true.

MH: Not true.

BE: Is wrong.

PM: I think it also has to be said that in any fundraising exercise you are in dialogue with people over a period of time and some harden and produce the money and some decide for all sorts of different reasons, including changes in leadership and problems that are encountered, as indeed was the case with one particular donor. Because the problems that they encountered with their own side of this, which was a project that they wanted to get involved in which was going to augment what we were doing with the bridge, and the planning and the problems that they encountered meant that they couldn’t deliver it so they had to withdraw.

MH: This is the guys for £10 million, the £10 million guys.

PM: No.

MH: This is somebody else?

PM: Yes.

MH: Right. How much cash in the bank?

BE: Cash in the bank today?

MH: No, out of all these — I’m —

MD: Well, I think you’ve got to assume that everyone on that list is pledged with a written, you know, agreement to donate the money with certain clauses that, you know, we can only draw on the money when they know that the project is happening. So —

MH: So all these, if you started the contract tomorrow, this comes to — I mean, take off the — I mean it’s £130 million so it’s £70 million here, isn’t it?

BE: Yes.

MH: That total £70 million is absolutely 100 per cent, copper bottom certain if the bridge starts?

BE: Yes, so some of those are conditional on —

MH: Yes, but or [overspeaking]

MD: No. Yes. I mean there is a bit.

PM: We saw Monument last week for example who I think were on your list.

MD: Yes, they’ve got to know that the project is happening.

MH: Yes, that’s why I said, once you start.

BE: Yes, so most of the —

MH: I did say that.

BE: — funders have spread their giving over, say, three years, so throughout the construction. So they will give one major payment on start of construction and then they’ll give another payment a year later, a year later.

MH: Yes, but they’re all committed.

BE: So as long as you are progressing and the bridge is going to be built then you can draw down on a regular basis [overspeaking]

MH: Okay. So that’s £70 million.

MD: Yes.

MH: And then on top of this bit of paper you’re clearly talking to other people all the time.

MD: Yes.

MH: Can you add to that?

MD: Well I think that, you know, there’s the nature of the dilemma really because a number of the potential donors who we have want a little bit more certainty. They obviously want to know what’s happening with the various reviews because obviously it delays the project and the JRs are out of the way but clearly the reviews have had a big impact on their willingness to sign something. But I think we’re, you know, confident that the pipeline is strong but clearly there has been uncertainty and press around the project.

So, whether it’s individual donors or corporate donors, you know, we’ve got blue chip names. All of them, you know, passed the –you know, they’re all acceptable very respected figures and it’s a blend of individual donors, corporations and trusts. And so, I think once we show that the project is happening then we’re confident that we can get some others to add to the list and get the money.

MH: But beyond the 70, you haven’t added to the 70 people who, you know, the first sort of hole in the river or wherever you’re going to do it, will say yes. There’s nobody in there that has sort of signed a bit of paper —

MD: No. I think just to be specific, you’re saying if we’re digging —

MH: Once you start —

MD: — if we’re digging in the river —

MH: Or whatever.

MD: Yes, or whatever, are we — do we have other names that would give money? Yes, we do. But I don’t sort of–you know, these are all signed, agreed, whereas we do have other names that would commit if we were in the river but, you know, they’re not signed.

PM: It has to be said we have names that are reserving their position until such time as all this is over.

MD: Yes.

MH: Pardon?

PM: We have people who’ve said they won’t put it to their Board while (a) the Charity Commission, and (b) your inquiry are going.

MH: Well, the Charity Commission will take forever.

MD: No.

PM: I don’t think they will they’ve said it will be this month.

BE: Yes, the report went to their committee last Thursday.

MH: Did it?

BE: Yes.

MH: Right. So, you’re at £70m, plus the £60m brings you to £130m. You’ve got to get another £70m in if you’re at £200 million.

PM: I think our feeling was we want half of that before we start.

MD: Yes.

MH: Another £35m.

MD: We want to get — we need another £35m before we start.

MH: And?

MD: And what?

MH: So, is your view — I mean, I don’t know how close you think you are to that.

MD: Well it depends how long you take. It depends —

MH: Okay, if all these things finish and let’s say they’re all right, what’s your view on where you get to on the —

MD: Well, you know, I think as a group of independent unpaid trustees, that’s a tough call. We have to be very responsible in terms of making sure that the pipeline is robust, making sure there are signed agreements. But if you’re asking us specifically today, do we think we can raise the money? Yes. But it does depend on timings because time is — you know, we’re into November. It depends how long your review takes, it depends what happens on anything else that, you know, comes up. So I think it all depends on the timing really, because as the clock ticks it eats into the time that we have to raise the money. So —

MH: Why? You can just, you know —

MD: Well because why would anybody — you know, going out and selling —

MH: Are you selling it at the moment? Are you trying to sell it at the moment or are you holding a bit?

MD: Well, we are. We’re holding a little bit because inevitably the conversation starts with, being very specific, “When is your review going to be over?” We don’t know so we can’t tell them when it’s over which puts us in a very difficult position as trustees because I can’t say —

MH: My review is not going to say stop it and start it.

MD: Sorry?

MH: My review is not —

MD: No, but it gets a lot of —

MH: I keep saying this, my review is not —

MD: But you’re a prominent —

MH: — a review —

MD: — but you’re a prominent person and you get a lot of press coverage and therefore, for us, as trustees, selling the project to corporations, if a board of directors or indeed, you know, potential individual donors, inevitably they’re looking for a little bit of certainty.

MH: Okay, so we’re — just so that I’ve got this completely clear, the £70 million here is certain. There was a £10 million that’s gone, that was certain, that’s on top of the £70 million.

MD: No, hold up. That’s not accurate.

MH: Okay.

MD: The £10 million was a prospect —

MH: That’s gone.

MD: — that somehow leaked out there. It was never — you know, look, we have a number of companies, that is the list that matters.

MH: Okay.

MD: Those are signed and pledged and we’re in active dialogue with all of them.

MH: Okay, but this list has not changed since August?

MD: No.

MH: Either plus or minus.

BE: No.

MD: Yes, it hasn’t changed.

MH: And you would now be looking at raising another £35 million before you restarted the contract?

MD: Yes.

MH: Can I just ask, I mean, this is my — why are so many anonymous? Is — go on.

BE: So, on that list the people who are anonymous are people who either want to remain anonymous. For whatever reason they don’t want recognition, that’s how they give, that’s what they’re about.

MH: That’s usually individuals, isn’t it?

BE: It’s usually individuals but there’s a couple of companies in there.

MD: No, there’s a couple of corporates, yes.

MH: I know there are, that’s what surprises me.

MD: Well they will — there’s one or two corporates that will not be anonymous once it’s announced. What they don’t want is —

MH: Is bad —

BE: They don’t want to make an announcement when [overspeaking]

MD: — you know, is – they don’t want to make an announcement —

MH: And why is a foundation anonymous? That’s sort of —

MD: Sorry?

MH: A foundation anonymous, why is that? Just so that — I mean, it’s not really sort of – it just seems a bit odd.

BE: That foundation is always anonymous, that’s part of their principles.

MD: Always anonymous.

MH: Always anonymous.

MD: Yes, it’s a huge donor to artistic organisations, museums in the UK, always anonymous.

MH: It always does it anonymous. So really the one, the family company anonymous will, once it goes ahead, will —

BE: Don’t know. At the moment they’ve said they want to remain anonymous and they’ve been consistent for three years.

MD: Not sure actually.

MH: Okay.

BE: And then the companies will probably make an announcement but obviously they want to tie in any announcement with the best possible press coverage they can get.

MD: What they don’t want is to be — yes, they want the best.

BE: They’re not going to choose how to do it.

MD: To be honest they want the best possible PR for their brand when the project is happening.

PM: It’s also, in my experience, not at all unusual.

BE: No.

MH: No, I mean it’s the first one I’ve looked at.

PM: [overspeaking] I recognised it as something which our opponents are making hay out of but it’s not at all unusual.

MD: It’s normal.

PM: Yes.

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.