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It is nice to get started a bit early, which means I do not have to rush through my speech to fit it into the time. I hope other hon. Members wish to contribute.
I want to use this opportunity to lay out the issues around the garden bridge project, which is unfortunately now known by most Londoners as the vanity project. A Transport Minister will respond to the debate tonight, but it is certainly not a transport project. Lord Ahmed should be the answering Minister, but he is in the House of Lords. I welcome the Minister who is here and hope he understands his brief in the wider context.
I pay tribute to all those to all those who have worked so hard to shine a light on the failings of the garden bridge project: Thames Central Open Spaces; the Waterloo Community Development Group; and a cross-party group of members of the Greater London Authority who did their best to get to the truth, especially Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, Labour member Tom Copley and Conservative Andrew Boff. They are from different parties but are united on the issue. I also pay tribute to the local councillors for Bishop’s ward, which is just across the river from the House, particularly Councillors Mosley and Craig, who have been brave enough to stand up to their own Labour council to represent strongly the views of their local area.
A great deal of the information I will use tonight had to be dragged out of public bodies by freedom of information requests. I pay tribute to the work of journalists such as Will Hurst from the Architects’ Journal, Peter Walker from The Guardian, Theo Usherwood from LBC and Hannah Barnes from “Newsnight”, who have done so much to ensure that the information, which should have been public in the first place, is transparent.
Many of us in London have been incredibly disappointed in London’s Evening Standard. From the beginning, it has ignored any criticism or alternative view of the project and has been the official mouthpiece of the Garden Bridge Trust, which is perhaps not surprising, because at one time its proprietor was shown as a governor of the trust, although that is no longer the case. It is sad that a paper once known for its fearless reporting has on this issue acted as the cheerleader without recognition of the widespread opposition from Londoners.