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Garden Bridge 'could lose taxpayers £22 million'

The Garden Bridge funding has been called into question Photo: Arup

A government spending watchdog has warned that the controversial Garden Bridge could result in the loss of more than £22 million in taxpayers' money.

An investigation by the National Audit Office (NAO) said there was a "significant risk" that the project will not go ahead as the trust responsible for building the bridge had still not secured the land it needs on the south side of the river.

If the project were to be scrapped, the NAO estimated that £22.5 million of the £30 million already invested in the bridge by the Department for Transport would be lost.

Drawings show what the bridge could look like if completed Credit: Arup

The watchdog also found that ministers twice overrode the advice of officials to extend funding to the bridge - despite an initial assessment concluding there was a high risk that the bridge could represent "poor value for money".

On one occasion occasion, the then Prime Minister David Cameron personally intervened to get more taxpayer money allocated to the project. Pressure from No. 10 eventually resulted in the then transport secretary Sir Patrick McLoughlin ordering officials to underwrite £15 million worth of cancellation liabilities.

The bridge would run between Temple and the South Bank Credit: Arup

The findings come after current mayor Sadiq Khan ordered an investigation into the spending on the project by his predecessor, Boris Johnson.

The chair of the Public Accounts Commitee, which oversees the NAO's work, said she was 'worried' about the findings.

It worries me that, whenever the Garden Bridge Trust runs into financial trouble, the DfT releases more taxpayers' money before construction has even started.

I hope the Government learned its lesson from the Kids Company fiasco, when for years it bailed out the charitable trust every time it came begging.

– Meg Hillier, Commons Public Accounts Committee chair

Government ministers have also agreed that further risk to the taxpayer from the project must be curtailed.

The Government remains supportive of the Garden Bridge project and ministers took into account a wide range of factors before deciding whether or not to make funding available.

The taxpayer, however, must not be exposed to any further risks and it is now for the trust to find private-sector backers to invest in the delivery of this project. We will consider the NAO's findings carefully.

– Transport Minister Lord Ahmad