Lord Archer last week led mayoral hopefuls in a verbal seige of Foster and Partners' proposed Greater London Authority (gla) building near London Bridge. Archer called it an unnecessary expense that he would rather rent or sell off than occupy if he wins the race to become mayor.
Archer's strong words came during a grilling of all the main mayoral candidates - except Frank Dobson - at a special event organised by the riba's London Region at Portland Place. In an outburst during an otherwise placid performance, Archer warned the audience: 'You do realise that the mayor will initially be in Romney House and that that building will cost £45 million to build?' And he lashed out at the £150 million of rent it would cost: 'We should not pay £7.5 million per year for 20 years. I would much rather spend it on the South Bank complex and bring people to London for the right reasons.'
Of the participants - Frank Dobson's deputy Trevor Phillips, Green party candidate Darren Johnson, Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer and Ken Livingstone, only the latter had kind words for the building, which will be home to the new mayor and 250 staff after their spell at Vauxhall Bridge's Romney House. Livingstone also showed that he knew the design has evolved: 'I've changed my mind on the building and feel that it is now much improved,' he said. 'Nick Raynsford assures us it is the best deal we'll get. It would not be the best start to have a row about the building as they have with the Scottish parliament. It's a done deal.'
But Kramer attacked the scheme as displaying the wrong message - she felt it a first step 'of grandeur', and Johnson risked losing a little of the architect vote in next May's elections by saying that the headquarters should have been in an existing building for the sake of 'urban regeneration'. Trevor Phillips would only say - with a grin - that he 'loved the location'.
The candidates were also asked about the buildings they most enjoy and their attitudes to new proposals for tall buildings. Livingstone thought the Royal Festival Hall would be magnificent again with restoration. Kramer 'loved the wheel' (British Airways' London Eye) for its new panoramas of the capital. But she rejected the 'Manhattanisation' of London and wanted instead to build on the character of the city. Lord Archer suggested Middlesex Guildhall and 'the Terminal at Waterloo' as buildings he liked and suggested that there was nothing wrong with tall buildings if they were of high quality. Phillips put forward Alexandra Palace as a 'great statement of people's architecture' near where he grew up. And as an engineer said he was looking forward to seeing the ba World Cargo Centre. He too loved the wheel, but felt London did not need to have tall buildings as a 'necessary signature of a successful city.'
The mayoral 'question-time' session was preceded by a conference held to debate the issues the mayor must turn to when he or she takes power.
Terry Farrell spoke of 'Parallel Cities', comparing London to Hong Kong and mourning the loss of the spirit-lifting public realm over here. This was especially evident in the Royal Parks, he said, which were the real jewels of the capital, and could be connected. Professor Peter Hall broadened the debate into the likely transport systems the mayor would invest in, such as Crossrail and Ring Rail, and agreed that city-making began with such projects. He pointed to London's failure to develop major sites such as Bishopsgate. Hammerson chairman Ron Spinney echoed the view that planning needed to be speeded up - witness Terminal Five - and that the system should reflect market realities. And Eric Sorensen, the chief executive of the London Development Partnership, suggested that the various transport packages proposed for the capital amounted only to 'a list', not an integrated transport policy. The conference also included addresses from Cedric Price, Tony Travers and Andrew Lett of Aukett Associates.