Did the mayor of London try to cover up the “scandal”?
London Mayor Boris Johnson “covered up” meetings he held with the Garden Bridge designer Thomas Heatherwick and US investors before it was even chosen as the official design.
The accusations are reported in the Architects’ Journal, where assembly members said it was “hard to believe the project could continue with this kind of allegation hanging over it”.
In 2013, Heatherwick’s design for the Garden Bridge was chosen as the winner of the Transport for London (TfL) competition.
But just days before his plans won, the designer was in San Francisco with Boris Johnson, pitching the plans to Apple executives, in the hopes of raising finance.
Last year, TfL was accused of “unfair” procurement procedures during an investigation into the tender process for the project.
In September 2015, Tom Copley, Labour member of the London Assembly, said the process was not fair.
“Heatherwick was party to information that other bidders were not,” he said.
“You were asking three people to design something – when you were really expecting something else – and you essentially tipped off one of them about this ‘extra thing’ that you actually wanted.
“Surely somebody must have said that it gave Heatherwick an unfair advantage. That is not fair is it?
He added: “Frankly if I was one of these other two companies who had spent money putting in bids I’d be pretty angry.”
The mayor of London has been accused of covering up the visit, after saying he could not provide names of the people who went with him to pitch to US investors because it would compromise ongoing discussions with Apple.
However, the Architects’ Journal contacted Apple, which said: “Apple has no involvement in this bridge project and is not considering getting involved.”
Len Duvall, chair of the London Assembly oversight committee, said: “Boris Johnson needs to start being entirely upfront about his role in the procurement process. We’ll be pushing him to come clean about exactly why he misled the Assembly, willingly or not.
“If…the mayor has been caught travelling to America on taxpayers money to promote Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge before the procurement process had concluded it would show the utter contempt Boris has for the rules which are specifically in place to prevent undue influence. This debacle is increasingly looking like a scandal and we now need full disclosure.”
He said there were so many questions about the procurement process that he found it “hard to believe the project could continue with this kind of allegation hanging over it”.
Mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Lib Dems in the Assembly, said the new information “confirmed once again the long standing suspicion held by many that the procurement process was rigged from the very start”.
She said: “It is time this cover up ended.”
Johnson’s office denied he had invited Heatherwick to California, adding the designer was already there and meeting with Apple anyway.
A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “The mayor met with Apple in 2013 to discuss a number of investment opportunities in London. Thomas Heatherwick was also in California to meet a separate commitment with Apple. Given that he had already expressed interest in creating a Garden Bridge, the mayor invited him to join the meeting and outline his ideas.”
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