Three Lambeth councillors have accused Jack Hopkins, their fellow councillor and cabinet member for regeneration, business and culture, of wilfully ignoring requests to engage with local elected members during consultations on the controversial Garden Bridge.
Councillors Kevin Craig, Jennifer Mosley and Ben Kind have “called in” a decision on the bridge by Lambeth council and their objections will be heard at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on 21 April. They represent Bishop’s ward where the southern end of the bridge would be.
They say they have “commissioned and reviewed analysis that indicates the overwhelming opposition to the Garden Bridge in our ward”.
The technical decision involves land owned by Lambeth and leased to Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB). The council plans to vary the terms of CSCB’s lease to allow part of the land to be used for a building at the southern end of the proposed bridge.
How the bridge came to be commissioned and how it will be paid for have been the subject of bitter accusations. Lambeth library campaigners, among others, say the money would be better spent on public services. The council says that the decision will not cost Lambeth anything.
The call-in expresses fears that Lambeth council could become liable if the Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) cannot raise enough money or if the bridge, once built, loses money.
“By prematurely confirming the heads of terms for the variation of the lease, LBL will have significantly weakened its negotiating position and potential for leverage in this respect,” say the three Bishop’s ward councillors.
The decision to allow a variation in the lease was taken by Cllr Hopkins alone. The councillors say in their call-in that: “Such an important decision should be subject to detailed legal and democratic scrutiny and not as an unaccountable private variation of lease” between the council and CSCB.
The three say that the decision “lacks the requisite transparency” and that it is “unclear and unexplained why the decision has been delegated to the member with responsibility for jobs and growth (Cllr Hopkins’ title before cabinet responsibilities were rejigged this week), whereas this matter falls under the remit of the deputy leader, with responsibility for finance.
“We are also very concerned that it defers the next stages of negotiations, which are significant, to Lambeth officers and thereby is structured to avoid further scrutiny.”
The call-in says the bridge project is “highly politicised” and attracting significant public interest so it is critical that “all relevant decisions are undertaken with appropriate scrutiny, oversight and transparency”.
The proposed amended lease is described in the original report as “largely unaltered”. But the three councillors say this is “a wholly misleading and inaccurate summary”.
On consultation, they say: “The report presents a very misleading and confused picture in relation to the consultation process. Indeed, despite suggesting that there is no need for any consultation, the report still includes reference to that process.”
The call-in says that Cllr Hopkins “has wilfully ignored a significant number of requests by local elected members to engage during the consultation period.
“We are concerned that this is not in the public interest. Additionally, there has been
- a near absence of consultation with local communities by the GBT and Lambeth leadership;
- misrepresentation in the press of the extent of public opinion against the bridge.
They say the decision “proposes the loss of this green public open space for development with a building which serves no specific purpose in relation to the operational requirements of the bridge other than to provide an income stream” for CSCB and, apparently, Lambeth council.
The decision “sets a precedent of Lambeth signing over high value public land for development by a private trust, without a full and appropriate level of consultation and oversight by elected members.”
Lambeth council has granted planning permission for the bridge. The council says the proposed new building could only go ahead if the bridge is built and would be removed if it was not completed and that construction of the bridge and the building will not cost the council anything.
The council’s own report on the decision says it “will not incur any financial liabilities arising from the construction/maintenance of the south landing building and the surrounding area in the event of GBT failing to fulfil its obligations. A guarantee has been sought from Transport for London and the Greater London Authority to meet the obligations of the GBT for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the bridge and therefore the south landing building. This will be legally secured.”
You can download the full call-in papers from Lambeth council’s website.
The GBT says that 80% of Lambeth’s pre-commencement planning conditions have now been approved.
The call-in will be considered at the 21 April meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee at the Springfield Community and Health Centre, 110 Union Street, SW8 2SH.