The procurement process for the Garden Bridge project in London was adversely affected by procedural errors, according to a report.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) Oversight Committee said mayor Boris Johnson should have been more upfront about the range and nature of contacts between his office, Tranport for London (TfL) senior management and Heatherwick Studio, which was awarded the contract for design services for the Garden Bridge.
The report is the result of four scrutiny meetings and investigations into the procurement of the design of the bridge and an internal audit review of it.
There were a series of procedural errors in the procurement process, while the final published audit failed to address the original objective, the report concluded.
It said the investigation identified significant failures of process throughout. This led the committee to “conclude that the objectivity and fairness of this procurement process was adversely affected by these actions, which casts a shadow on the ultimate outcome”, the report said.
The committee report recommended that TfL should consider reimbursing unsuccessful bidders for the design contract to compensate them for the time and expense incurred in preparing proposals.
There should be written records of all meetings the mayor holds with external bodies, which also clarify what capacity he is there in, it said.
The report said the principles of the Garden Bridge proposal were sound. “The controversy which has beset the project has stemmed from the mayor’s prior contact with bidders, TfL’s mishandling of the procurement process and the favourable treatment and access offered to one of the bidders in advance of the process,” it said.
The report is the view of a majority of the committee including Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green members. Conservative members did not support the conclusions.
Len Duvall, Labour group leader and chairman of the oversight committee, said the whole process was badly handled.
“TfL started work without a clear idea of the extent of its eventual involvement, which led to confusion among staff and managers in the early stages of the project. The mayor’s private office was less than honest about where he was, what he was doing there and why.”
He added that “secretive and defensive” responses from TfL and the mayor probably made the situation appear worse than it was.
“What should be a great tourist attraction, has been tainted by the dodgy design procurement process. Whether the Garden Bridge can overcome its controversial beginnings, will remain to be seen.”
A spokesperson for the mayor said: “An audit of Transport for London’s procurement process found that it was open, fair and transparent. The mayor believes the Garden Bridge will be a spectacular new addition to London, and building is due to begin this year on a project that is widely supported by Londoners and businesses on both sides of the river.”
A TfL spokesperson said: “An extensive and thorough review of the procurement was undertaken last year which found no evidence to suggest that the final recommendations did not provide value for money from the winning bidders.”
Work is due to begin on the £175m project in the summer.