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Practices quit Winchester station approach contest

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Grimshaw, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) and Aedas RHWL have all withdrawn from a high-profile competition to regenerate Winchester station approach

Their departures come amid concerns that the Winchester City Council (WCC)-backed competition had been too restrictive, too expensive and the final project fee too low.

Hopkins Architects and local firm Design Engine are now the only finalists vying for the council-owned Carfax and Cattlemarket plots which are expected to feature commercial, residential and retail development.

The original shortlist

  • Aedas RHWL, London [WITHDRAWN]
  • Design Engine Architects, Winchester
  • Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Bath [WITHDRAWN]
  • Grimshaw Architects, London [WITHDRAWN]
  • Hopkins Architects Partnership, London

The five teams were shortlisted from 22 entries in December and offered £15,000 each to draw up designs. Competitors were given an extra four weeks to prepare their bids in January but FCBS and Grimshaw both withdrew at this stage citing increased workloads elsewhere.

Aedas RHWL finally walked away from the competition in February with WCC council leader Stephen Godfrey telling The Hampshire Chronicle the firm ‘felt it was too expensive to continue.’

In a statement, Godfrey commented: ‘The challenging nature of the process means that three firms from the original shortlist of five have decided to pull out at various stages.

’This is part of the process and still leaves us with two first-rate options for the final stage of the competition.’

RIBA client adviser Tina Frost blamed the UK’s booming construction sector for placing architects in extraordinarily high demand at the moment.

She said: ‘Unfortunately for clients, this does mean that the resourcing situation can change for an architect between submitting a bid for a competition and hearing that they are shortlisted. It is also not unusual for bidding teams to decide to withdraw during a competition.’

She continued: ‘The council had anticipated this situation and had shortlisted five excellent teams, with consideration that there might be a lesser number of final competition entries.’

Russell Curtis, director at RCKa Architects argued the ‘restrictive’ pre-qualification process meant it was inevitable competitors would be selective in which opportunities they pursue.

Practices were required to have at least £5 million of professional indemnity insurance and £10 million worth of employer’s liability insurance to participate.

Curtis said: ‘Maybe it would have been wise for the council to make the procurement more accessible allowing a more diverse range of practices to get through the first round.’

He added: ‘If it’s really the case that the cost of preparing a tender was so prohibitive even the shortlisted practices had second thoughts, then this is a damning indictment of how wasteful these procedures tend to be.

‘Many clients don’t seem to acknowledge these “hidden” costs, yet are surprised when they end up with a result that doesn’t meet the objectives they set out to achieve.’

Andy Ramus of Winchester-based AR Design Studio meanwhile suggested the winning fee – estimated to be £1.2 million for the two sites – may have been too low.

Ramus said: ‘I don’t have a huge amount of experience on fees for this kind of project but it was a third of what we would normally charge.’

He added the debacle over Allies and Morrison’s Silver Hill development – dropped by the council last month after years of controversy – may have put some practices off bidding to work with the client.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Grimshaw said: ‘The procurement terms were not untypical of this type of project, and while the overall competition process was clearly set out, the timing did not work for us.

‘The quality of the final submissions should not be impacted by fewer practices taking part in the competition.’

Hopkins and Design Engine now have until 8 April to prepare for a meeting with the jury and their rival schemes will feature in a public exhibition in early May.

The competition jury in full:

  • Derek Latham – architect and chair
  • Cindy Walters – architect
  • Bob Wallbridge – architect, Hampshire County Council
  • Keith Leaman – City of Winchester Trust
  • Liz Hutchison – City councillor for St Paul Ward
  • Rob Humby – City councillor for Owslebury & Curdridge
  • Barry Lipscomb – City councillor for Wonston & Micheldever
  • John Hearn – urban designer and town planner
  • Ben Clifton – Strategic Transport, Hampshire County Council

Further comment

Paul Bulkeley, design director at Southampton-based Snug Architects
I am confident that both Design Engine and Hopkins will do a good job but it does not feel like much of an ideas competition and I suspect it will be costing them both dearly. For me this is an example of how competitions get misused by local authorities and our industry ultimately gets exploited. It should either have been an invited tender with three teams paid properly to do a proper job or an ideas competition where a larger number of ideas could be generated at much lower cost. This seems to have fallen between the two positions with teams dropping out due to the cost of doing a proper job far exceeding both the fee and potential value of the likely project that will derive from it. I just hope the end result delivers this time around.


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