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Boris refuses independent audit of Garden Bridge procurement


London mayor likens Heatherwick to Michelangelo as he is forced to respond to AJ’s FOI revelations

Boris Johnson was today forced to publicly defend the procurement of the £175million Garden Bridge following FOI revelations made by the Architects’ Journal (see AJ 06.03.15).

At a rowdy Mayor’s Question Time at the London Assembly, Johnson was told by the Assembly’s Liberal Democrat leader Caroline Pidgeon  that he had serious questions to answer on how winning firm Heatherwick Studio – a firm which has designed one bridge - had scored more on ‘design experience’ than Wilkinson Eyre, which has designed more than 25 including a Stirling prize winner.

But the mayor denied the contest had been pre-judged, accused her of a ‘Taliban-like hatred of beauty’ and refused to agree to her demand for a ‘full and independent audit of the process’ undertaken by client Transport for London (TfL).

AJ has published a number of stories about the procurement of the controversial project including scoring details from the 2013 TfL contest between Wilkinson Eyre, Marks Barfield and Heatherwick Studio which were described as ‘extraordinary’ by Walter Menteth, an architect and former chairman of the RIBA procurement reform group.

Johnson was asked whether he was satisfied with 2013 procurement of the bridge designer by TfL, which is overseen by the mayor.

He replied: ‘The answer to that is emphatically yes…Transport for London has a lot of experience in managing competition processes.

‘The process was entirely appropriate. The Architects’ Journal has sought details under Freedom of Information and I think you have those.’

Pidgeon highlighted the fact that Heatherwick had scored higher for design experience than Wilkinson Eyre and asked Johnson if he was ‘100 per cent satisfied’ that the process in selecting a designer had been appropriate and fair.

It’s depressing you persist in this Taliban-like hatred of beauty

The mayor replied: ‘Yes…Michelangelo probably never built a Duomo before he did the Sistine Chapel; it’s a ludicrous argument. There were different considerations applied [by TfL] and I think most impartial punters who look at the [Heatherwick] design think it’s wonderful.

‘It’s depressing that you persist in this Taliban-like hatred of beauty.’

Pidgeon then raised Joanna Lumley’s handwritten 2010 lobbying letter to Johnson and her comments that she had known him since he was four years’ old and that he was ‘amenable’ to her.

She said he had been lobbied by a ‘family friend’, adding: ‘With £60million of public money going into this scheme you have significant questions to answer.’

However, Johnson disagreed with her call for an independent audit and said that Heatherwick Studio was a world-beating firm which had designed the Olympic Cauldron and the British pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

He added: ‘It seems to me there’s been complete transparency’.

The mayor was also questioned by Labour member John Biggs on the agreement made by the Greater London Authority (GLA) to underwrite the £3.5million annual maintenance fee for the bridge in addition to capital funding of £30million.

Johnson said that the £30million would only be released when the GLA was satisfied that the Garden Bridge Trust had a viable and long-term plan for paying the maintenance costs itself.



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Readers' comments (4)

  • This is one 'impartial punter' who isn't impressed by someone on David Cameron's shortlist of nominated successors spouting guff about criticism of the garden bridge - but then Boris spouts rather a lot of guff, so perhaps this is an essential qualification for a potential Prime Minister.

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  • I thought we were all for newbies and untried geniuses getting a crack at designing things, and that we hated public sector procurement systems because they seemed to exclude talent in a Catch 22 sort of a way (if you haven't done a bridge before, you never shall). It is odd, admittedly, that Sir B of the Bang should score higher than Wilkinson's Sword. But remember, those who live by the tick box...may end up in the Taliban.

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  • Not sure the critics are saying that though Lee (ie we must have a tick box approach). What they are saying that this competition appears to have been pre-judged in favour of someone in a priviledged position. There's no contradiction between that and giving new talent a look in...

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  • The procurement is only one example of the way Boris doesn't do business, he does diktat. Firstly Boris publishes a London Plan in 2011 that has no mention of a strategic need for a pedestrian bridge in central London, let alone a garden bridge, but with the very clear need for a pedestrian bridge at Nine Elms where 25,000 new homes are to be delivered.
    Then in Nov 13 Boris and his mate George agreed to put £60m of public money for transport into a private bridge with no right of way and limited access - huh? They do it on the basis of a Strategic Business Case which isn't published until May 14, and even then only in draft. The Strategic Business Case id of course completely loaded in favour of the garden bridge, but the fundamental argument is that it is a tourist attraction, not transport infrastructure, and only scores 1.9 on cost benefit analysis.
    And then of course we come to the machinations and lies about the underwriting of the £3.5m annual maintenance costs, capitalised at £90m... oh and not forgetting the planning process...
    With Boris' penchant for making-it-up-as-he-goes-along-bugger-all-that-process-and-accountability-nonsense no wonder he's so smitten with Mr B of the Bollocks

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