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Local architects blast ‘totally inappropriate’ beach huts PQQ


A raft of small local practices have called on New Forest District Council (NFDC) to rewrite its tender documents for new beach huts at Milford-on-Sea

Magnus Ström of Lymington-based Ström Architects said the council’s ridiculous’ demand for £5 million of professional indemnity insurance [PII] in its pre-qualification questionnaire [PQQ] excluded all but the largest companies in the area.

He said: ‘I’d love to get involved in a project like that but we are a small practice of two people and I wouldn’t even consider applying.’

Ström added he would be unable to bid with a larger firm – such as structural engineer – without already completing three projects together.

He continued: ‘You’d think they could have procured it in a different way. The PII might be because the scheme includes concrete retaining walls but if the council is worried about that they could have always procured structural services separately.’

NFDC announced it was seeking an architect to design and deliver a series of ‘aesthetically enhancing’ beach huts at Milford-on-Sea earlier this month.

The reinforced concrete structures are part of a new coastal protection scheme and will replace a number of existing cabins which were severely damaged during last winter’s storms.

The appointed team will replace a large concrete slab supporting the promenade and create new cabins able to withstand similar storm events while being ‘visually attractive to the area’.

Darren Bray of Hampshire-based PAD Studio said he ruled out competing after his insurer advised him it would cost £40,000 over the next eight years to meet the insurance requirements.

For an SME this is very onerous

He said: ‘For an SME this is very onerous and that is why we and other local practices have taken umbrage with it.’

Calling on the PQQ to be re-written, he said: ‘There is a plethora of information available to local authorities about how to get good designers involved.

He continued: ‘This competition would have been perfect for a young local practice. It’s frustrating and it shows that nothing has been learned.’

He added: ‘We keep on making the same mistakes in the UK and all that happens is design suffers. This PQQ shows they are more interested in ticking boxes and covering risk than good design.’

Andy Ramus of Winchester-based AR Design Studio suggested small practices ‘looking to make a name for themselves’ might be the only companies interested in designing such a scheme which would likely feature a single structure repeated over and over.

He said: ‘Having looked at the PPQ it would be unlikely that even a practice twice our size would qualify which is a real shame. It seems to me to be another classic case of where PPQ and OEJU is totally inappropriate for public procurement.’

Paul Testa of Sheffield-based Paul Testa Architecture said: ‘[The PQQ] immediately sets the council’s risk averse position that, to be capable of designing a high quality and aesthetically enhancing product for that location, you must have access to hugely prohibitive insurance.’

A project like this deserves an open ideas competition

He added: ‘These shouldn’t be hugely complex or over engineered structures. A project like this deserves an open ideas competition that values ideas and design quality first.’

The council declined to respond to the architects’ criticism and said in a statement:  ‘We’re satisfied that we have set our insurance requirements at the right level.’

The Hampshire coastal town once featured around 119 privately-owned beach huts overlooking the Solent.

More than half of the buildings were however significantly damaged when 80mph winds battered the country on 14 February and around a third of the huts have now been demolished.

The deadline for applications is 21 January.

How to apply

View the tender notice for more information

Contact details

Steve Cook
New Forest District Council
Coastal Protection
Appletree Court
Beaulieu Road
SO43 7PA

Telephone: +44 2380285588
E-mail: steve.cook@nfdc.gov.uk





Readers' comments (4)

  • I am not surprised to hear this. Even though the Government has pledged to open up local authority work to SME's, the criteria in most PQQ's are far too onerous for most SME's to comply with. My own QS firm provided services to one local authority for several years until new procurement rules were introduced, after which we didn't pass the PQQ process because our turnover was too small and the contract went to a multi-national. I doubt they ever got the same level of service we gave them?!

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  • This is typical of the increasingly risk-averse approach of the public sector (and in particular their procurement teams). They are in effect, marginalising the vast majority of architectural practices (who are small practices of less than 5 people) and favouring those with huge PI cover. As a practice of 14 people, we have recently been precluded from bidding a new, £5m civic HQ for Halifax Council as a result of their financial criteria despite the fact that we carry £10M PI cover and have delivered schemes of up to £31M. More recently, we were shortlisted for a new, £15M leisure centre by Exeter Council only to have to pull out because they wanted £15M PI cover. Something has to be done and I for one would like to know that the RIBA are pro-actively addressing this matter as a priority.

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  • Council don't seem to understand that the figure covered is for each and every claim, not a total maximum - how can there ever be single claim against the architectural design component for £5m on a beech hut? Severe lack of common sense in Local Authorities procurement policies which is no doubt leading to higher costs for them than necessary.

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  • Another shocker!
    Inappropriate procurements like this are being actively investigated by The Cabinet Office Mystery Shopper Service (MysteryShopper@crowncommercial.gov.uk); but only in response to reports submitted to them. It is important therefore that the profession continues emailing complaints about all bad practices on a frequent basis if we are to ensure better future practices. They are responsive.

    The New Public Contract Regulations 2015 although delayed are due to come into force within the next 2 months. Neither PI or turnover will become mandatory requirements to bid. But old (bad) risk averse habits will likely die hard.

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