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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Should there be an independent probe into how the Garden Bridge design team was procured?