Brunel Bridge – a pedestrian and cycling bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf

TfL and Mayor do U-Turn

Nearly three years after the Mayor  unequivocal go-ahead for the bridge , TfL and the Mayor have done a U turn – now saying that the bridge is unaffordable.  TfL are reported as saying that final costs could be as high as £600M

We had already made a Freedom of Information request earlier in June for a breakdown of costings of all bridge designs and routes because costings attached to the proposed bizarre “L” shaped route with an ugly vertical lifting bridge were already astonishingly high at £330M – which compares with estimates for the original iconic “boomerang” bridge coming in at under £100M.

You may well ask what is going on here. Where have these ludicrous figures come from?    We hope our FOI request will provide clarity. We will be looking closely at whether the figures have been inflated by excessive contingency allowance;  we understand the “optimism bias” alone is 52% and this may be in addition to normal contingency allowances

It is astonishing that after wasting tax payers money on the Garden Bridge debacle history is repeating itself as yet another bridge is abandoned after spending yet more of our taxes on a very long drawn out design and consultation process which is going no-where. It may be argued that we now need a public enquiry.

Optimism Bias – what is it?

In September 2018,  TfL stated*:

The Treasury’s Green Book recommends that optimism bias should be included in appraisals to take account of the tendency for appraisers to be overly optimistic about key project parameters such as cost, duration and benefits delivery. The guidance states that it is open to the project team to apply their best judgement as to what optimism bias to apply. In the case of this project, at the time the initial assessment was undertaken, 52% was considered appropriate based on our understanding of scheme estimates and the associated levels of risk. 66% is an upper bound percentage provided in the guidance and represents an average across a range of NSCE projects at a specific point in time.

It is our view that 52% is excessive for deploying a vertical lift bridge,  which is known technology deployed widely at many other locations.  We will also be looking closely at whether the 52% applies to total project costs or just the moving bridge element because it is self evident that different elements of the construction would be subject to different financial risks,  and it seems to us to be unreasonable to apply such a high risk to a project which includes many more mundane aspects in addition to the moving bridge itself.

We would argue that the make or break financial decision relies heavily on contingency and optimism bias elements which are highly subjective and should be capable of challenge.

* https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/transparency/freedom-of-information/foi-request-detail?referenceId=FOI-1296-1819

Click here for our appraisal of bridge vs ferry pros and cons

This exciting project to join Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf has a well grounded justification and wide support from the community, businesses and politicians.

Enthusiastic political support comes from Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the Transport Committee at the London Assembly and Southwark Council – see our News section for details