There were three empty chairs in the chamber of City Hall on Monday as trustees of the charity behind the failed Garden Bridge refused to submit to face-to-face scrutiny by members of the London Assembly.
It was left to Transport for London's Andy Brown to face a grilling by the cross-party Garden Bridge Working Group set up by the London Assembly to continue the probe into the project which collapsed after spending £43 million of public money on an unbuilt bridge.
The working group includes Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Brexit Alliance members of the London Assembly – but the Conservative Group declined to cooperate.
Labour peer Lord Davies, chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, wrote to working group chair Tom Copley AM declining to take part in the City Hall hearing.
"Whilst it is certainly the intention of the trustees of the Garden Bridge that the full story should be told, we regret that we are not able to attend," wrote Lord Davies.
"We do not believe the working group to be representative of the full membership of the assembly; and nor can we have faith in its objectivity given that leading members of the group have been so critical of both the Garden Bridge project and the trust over a matter of years, without at any time feeling it would be helpful to speak to the trust.
"Had they done so they would have learned that there is indeed another 'side of the story'."
Lord Davies said that the trust would "respond fully and in writing" to questions from the working group if they were "born of a genuine spirit of enquiry".
Tom Copley said: "We are dismayed at the refusal of the Garden Bridge Trust to appear before us to explain its actions. This is an outrageous evasion of scrutiny which begs the question, what are they afraid of? Their refusal to attend simply makes us more determined to pursue transparency and accountability.
"By failing to attend, the trust is evading important questions about why they chose to sign a construction contract without having secured the land on the south bank, nor the necessary planning consents. That decision alone cost taxpayers £21 million. We believe explaining to Londoners what was, on the face of it, an incredibly foolish decision, is the very least they could do."
• The whole meeting is available to view on the London Assembly webcast service.
The next Garden Bridge Working Group meeting takes place at City Hall on Monday 13 May.
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