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Cardiff to restart student union contest

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Cardiff University is to re-launch its design contest for a new £80 million student union amid criticism of its procurement process

The Welsh university is planning to withdraw and resubmit the contest notice so key elements can be ‘refined’ – according to its own announcement today (24 February).

The move comes just over two weeks after the contest – seeking an ‘iconic’ addition to Cardiff’s student union – opened for entries.

Originally due to close on 9 March, the competition was criticised by Project Compass founder Walter Menteth for failing to include more than one architect on its jury or to satisfactorily guarantee participants’ anonymity.

Architects also hit out the contest’s ‘restrictive’ £15 million minimum turnover requirement and demand for participants to hold £15 million of Employer’s Liability Insurance.

Announcing the restart, a Cardiff University spokesperson said: ‘We have further reviewed our design contest and decided that, while we believe the notice complies with regulations, there are elements that we feel can be refined.

‘We have therefore decided to withdraw the notice and resubmit it.’  

The university spokesperson refused to reveal any further details about why and how the competition rules were being re-written.

In an earlier statement, the university rejected Menteth’s claim the contest breached EU regulations because it failed to include a jury composed one-third of architects. Of the eight competition judges only one – school of architecture headChris Tweed – is an architect.

The university also refuted a challenge the contest lacked anonymity because its first round featured a PQQ.

The statement said: ‘The design content has not been specified as being “restricted to a particular profession” on the OJEU notice. Therefore, the requirement that the jury is comprised of at least one third who  “also possess that qualification or an equivalent qualification” does not apply.’

It added: ‘The contest is anonymous, the jury will not be informed of the authorship of proposals/information until after it has reached its decision.’

In response, Menteth argued Cardiff University has misunderstood the rules governing design contests.

He said: ‘They need to read the regulations and the specific details about what a design contest is.’

Commenting on the re-launched competition, he said: ‘If the contest keeps the same method of assessment – which calls for identifies such as pictures of buildings – how can they keep the process anonymous?’

 He went on to argue that whether or not the contest specifically called for architect participants the jury is still required, under the regulations, to be composed one-third of members holding the professional capability to judge designs, such as architects.

He said: ‘It appears the university’s School of Architecture is trying to get a Cardiff version of LSE’s Saw Swee Hock Student Centre. However I don’t think the university’s estates department has the capacity to deliver that aspiration.’

Menteth said he was aware of four seperate complaints which have been made to the government’s Mystery Shopper procurement watchdog about the contest.

It has yet to be seen whether the re-launched contest will make use of updated rules for design contests included in new Public Contracts Regulations 2015 which come into force on Thursday (26 February).

The new ‘Centre for Student Life’ building is the first phase of a £700 million campus redevelopment masterplanned by RMJM-offshoot mosescameronwilliams.

Planned to complete by 2020, the building will be physically connected to the university’s existing student union on Park Place.

Alongside designing the centre, the winning team will also work up plans to regenerate the existing student union and create a new pedestrian bridge to nearby Cathays Railway Station.

Plans to pedestrianize Park Place and ‘enclose’ the university’s Main Building courtyard will also be required.

A new contest notice – featuring a revised deadline for entries – is expected to be published in the OJEU shortly.

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