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Trustees of failed London Garden Bridge project may face £40m legal action

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A leading lawyer claims that trustees of London’s abandoned garden bridge scheme, including actress Joanna Lumley and the former Labour minister Lord Davies, may have breached their legal duties over the failed project, costing taxpayers over £40m.

As well as Lumley and Lord Mervyn Davies, a banker and junior minister under Gordon Brown, the trustees included the PR executive Roland Rudd, the brother of Tory MP Amber Rudd, and Paul Morrell, formerly the chief government construction adviser.

The idea for the tree-filled pedestrian link from Temple to the South Bank in the centre of London was based on an idea suggested by Lumley, and strongly supported by Johnson and the then chancellor, George Osborne.The controversial project, seen by many as a ‘legacy project’ for Boris Johnson, who was London mayor at the time. was isupposed to be mainly funded by private sector donations. However, most of the money spent actually came from the £60m of public funds granted to the project.

The legal opinion from Jason Coppel QC, an expert in procurement law and public law, comes as pressure mounts for a formal investigation into how the charity behind the abandoned scheme spent so much money without construction work even beginning. In Coppel’s opinion, any potential breach of trustee duties was particularly relevant over the decision by the trust to sign a construction contract for the bridge despite the related private sector funding having not been raised and the fact that there were a series of outstanding planning-related hurdles to address.

Despite these important isues not being resolved, the decision was made to to press on with the construction contract, leading to public losses by the time to contract was cancelled by current mayor Sadiq Khan in 2017 of an estimated total of £46m.

Coppel was asked by the party who commissioned the legal opinion – who is remaining anonymous – to look into a potential claim for breach of duty against the trustees over the losses.

Coppel, who was commissioned to provide the legal opinion by an anonymous party, wrote that while blame could also be placed with Transport for London and others, the trustees held some apparent responsibility, in particular the decision to sign the construction contract “at a time when the trust had neither secured all of the necessary funding for the project nor the necessary rights to use the land which would be required”.

He went on to argue, however, that any legal action against the trustees would be complicated by the fact that the beneficiaries of the Garden Bridge Trust were identified only as “members of the public at large”.

Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem chair of the London assembly’s transport committee, said Lumley and her colleagues should see “exactly the same level of scrutiny as faced by the trustees of Kids Company”.

She said:

The Charity Commission claims its hands are largely tied, yet there is now clear legal advice that the trustees might have breached their duty to act with reasonable skill and care.”

The Garden Bridge Trust has already been cleared of financial irregularities by the Charity Commission in 2017.

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