Greater London Assembly members this week warned they may abandon plans to inhabit Foster and Partners' headlamp-shaped headquarters building after branding it 'an eyecatching folly that will fail the needs of London government'.
In an astonishing attack, politicians said the London Bridge building is too small, too open- plan for political work and may not meet its environmental goal of reducing energy costs by a quarter. The attack, from the assembly's cross-party environment committee and New Building User Group, has increased the pressure on mayor Ken Livingstone to resist the lure of the £65 million building's low rent and find alternative headquarters.After being grilled on the building's shortcomings during 'mayor's question time' this week, Livingstone agreed to consider any other building 'which provides better value'.
The assembly is currently drawing up a list of other options.The mayor will decide once the building is complete in 2002, but he is unlikely to resist a groundswell of opinion from the assembly, according to GLA chairman Trevor Phillips.'I am particularly concerned that plans will not take account of the number of people we have and the way we have to work, ' said Phillips.He also warned that the open-plan design 'would engender an atmosphere of suspicion'between political parties.
'I am dead against moving there, ' blasted Conservative Brian Coleman.'This is just ego architecture.'Coleman said that the building would prove too small and that, despite the low rent which has been promised, the cost of finding additional overflow offices nearby would make it too expensive. If the government chooses to extend its policy of devolution, other functions - including transport, health and adult education - may also be located at the assembly, although there will not be space for them in the Foster building.'If the GLA is to function effectively we can't have different parts of the authority scattered, 'Coleman added.
'Foster doesn't seem to have considered the needs of a political building, 'said the Green Party's Victor Adams.'He is keen on transparency as a metaphor for open government. It might suit the needs of the staff but not the politicians.The worst case scenario is that we go to a different building.'
Foster and Partners'partner-in-charge, Ken Shuttleworth, responded that the space could be partitioned as the politicians wish.
The Government Office for London has already signed a 25-year lease on the building at £4.25 million a year for the first seven years, almost half the market price of an equivalent headquarters building at Canary Wharf, but the GLA itself - currently based at Romney House near Lambeth Bridge - is not bound by this.
About 420 staff are expected to take offices in the building, alongside 25 politicians.Livingstone admitted this week that space would be tight and revealed that he has reduced his own accommodation in the building by a third. He called on his colleagues to do the same, despite the growing tide of opposition to the building he dubbed 'the glass testicle'.