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Cambridge University drops turnover bar for firms competing for campus masterplan

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The University of Cambridge has slashed the minimum turnover requirements in its biomedical campus contest following pressure from Project Compass and the RIBA

The prestigious university reduced its turnover threshold for participating firms from £5 million to £3.5 million and extended the application deadline until Friday last week (19 August).

The move came after an architect contacted procurement service Project Compass to complain that the qualifying threshold figure was too high. The complaint was then handed over to the government’s Mystery Shopper hotline and to the RIBA, which took it further.

The original contract sought a single masterplanning team, with the lead consultant demonstrating an annual turnover of at least £5 million.

Walter Menteth of Project Compass commented: ‘This was far above twice the earnings to be derived from the contract – estimated by one prospective applicant firm to be less than £2.5 million – and the requirements of the public contract regulations.

‘Masterplanning is also a mild professional demand, compared with being a lead designer on major transport infrastructure projects.’

The university initially argued it was exempt from the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 – which define current public procurement legislation – but agreed to amend the tender notice in light of concerns the threshold might prohibit ‘capable and talented applicants firms and potentially reduce opportunity, value, quality and choice’.

Reducing the minimum turnover to £3.5 million, the university acknowledged the expected value of the contract was around £1.75 million.

Menteth said: ‘This is an important precedent which shows clients are willing to listen and respond to valid arguments when procurements are shown to reduce competition whether or not they are covered by the PCR 2015.’

He continued: ‘AJ readers should feel further emboldened to complain wherever procurements appear to unduly deny access or be ill-considered by contacting Project Compass and Mystery Shopper.’

Organised by Colander Associates, the contest sought proposals to expand the biomedical campus, which currently accommodates about 12,000 healthcare professionals and research scientists.

The winning architect-led team will masterplan several key sites near the campus’s main entrance on Hills Road to deliver a new school of clinical medicine.

A new institute of public health and neurosciences hub may also be delivered as part of the project, alongside other supporting teaching, research and administration facilities.

Located 4km south of Cambridge city centre, the campus opened in 1962 when Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology relocated to the Hills Road site.

Other leading institutes now occupying the site include the Rosie Hospital, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Trust and the university’s school of clinical medicine.

Since 1999 the university’s ‘2020 Vision’ – supported by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the MRC – has encouraged further expansion and commercial development on the site.

Allies and Morrison and Devereux Architects completed a strategic masterplan for the entire campus six years ago.

RMJM completed a new £212 million home for the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology on the site three years ago and Herzog & de Meuron is working on a new £330million headquarters for pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca nearby, which is due to complete next year.

Five teams shortlisted for the campus extension will be invited to submit tenders and attend interviews in autumn.

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