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Practices struggle with 'convoluted' ODA competition notices

The Olympic Delivery Authority's (ODA) design contest notices are so 'convoluted, incomprehensible and obscure' that the majority of architects have been put off entering.

Over the last two weeks the AJ has been inundated with complaints from exasperated practices unable to navigate the maze of bureaucracy and e-tender documents.

Most of the criticism has been levelled at the much-hyped competition to design the Carpenters Lock footbridge over the River Lea Waterway.

Billed by the ODA as an opportunity for 'high-level creativity and design quality', it was expected that the contest would attract 'both established and emerging design practices'.

However, many firms have fallen at the first fence, thwarted by time-consuming pre-qualification questionnaires and lengthy document download times from the ODA's website.

After trying to navigate the administrative minefield for days, Neu Architects' Ben Paul, like many others, eventually decided to give the contest a miss.

'[When] you can sketch design a concept bridge more quickly than completing the PQQ, you do start to wonder about the process,' said Paul.

Cezary Bednarski of Studio Bednarski was similarly foiled: 'During the RIBA speed-dating event, the ODA people showed interest in our bridge work, so we were tempted.

'Yet after three days of trying to make sense of the expression of interest process - the most convoluted, incomprehensible and obscure that I have experienced in over 20 years, combining e-tendering with paper submissions, with no scope for calling anybody to ask and be guided through that maze - we gave up.'

Concerns have also been raised by up-and-coming practices that the competition was geared against them.

Some frustrated smaller firms have found it impossible to meet financial conditions which demand that practices prove an annual turnover of £150,000 for the last three years.

In a statement, the RIBA acknowledged that there was a problem with ODA competitions but defended the stance taken by both organisations: 'It is disappointing that the requirements on the bridge competition are deterring some practices, especially smaller ones.

'But it is clearly possible to achieve a successful outcome using their talents. There is a key opportunity for them to be engaged via partnership with larger firms of architects or engineers.'

Commenting on the requirement to demonstrate a PII cover of £5 million, the RIBA statement continued: 'The fees will allow for this level of premium and there will also a £10,000 honorarium for the shortlisted competitors.'

An ODA spokesperson said:'... our thorough procurement approach is a legal requirement and is essential to check the integrity and capability of teams to ensure world-class design is at the heart of our plans.

'We are committed to presenting opportunities to both established and emerging design practices and the procurement of a number of projects has been specifically designed to enable and encourage smaller practices to apply,' they added.

by Richard Waite

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