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Architects blast council over tender’s 70:30 weighting of cost over experience

Steam Mills Lake
  • 10 Comments

More than 20 architects have criticised Forest of Dean District Council for prioritising cost over experience when recruiting architects for a new development in an environmentally sensitive setting

In an open letter to the council’s regeneration manager Wendy Jackson, 23 leading practitioners called for an immediate reversal of its evaluation criteria, currently weighted 70:30 in favour of cost over experience.

The signatories – who have collectively refused to tender for the Cinderford Northern Quarter opportunity unless it is revised – include Chris Romer-Lee of Studio Octopi, Carl Turner of Carl Turner Architects, Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio, Diba Salam of Studio DS, and Sophie Goldhill from Liddicoat & Goldhill.

In their letter, the architects said they were ‘disappointed and disturbed’ by the criteria and argued in favour of a generally recognised maximum cost weighting of 30 per cent upheld by the Greater London Authority and other public bodies.

The letter stated: ‘These percentages may seem arbitrary but good practice dictates that architects produce detailed resource schedules upon which fees are based. Asking design consultants to submit with the knowledge that cost is more important than their experience will not deliver returns that offer a well-resourced project from an experienced team.

‘Any design consultant with experience of working in “environmentally sensitive settings” knows that these projects need to be adequately resourced. Cutting back on resources in order to reduce cost will result in either an inexperienced design consultant or under-resourced design team winning the project, which leads to the real possibility of poor architecture.’

Caroline Cole, director of architectural competition organiser Colander, commented: ‘The council will be able to tick the box that said it was looking after the taxpayers’ money in the short-term, but will it be able to say that it has also done the best for the Forest of Dean? I doubt it.’

The team selected for the £50,000-to-£164,000 contract will be appointed to draw up plans for 50 homes and two workplace units on a prominent site within the new 84ha Cinderford Northern Quarter settlement.

The project is the latest phase of the council’s £100 million redevelopment of a former mining site in the heart of the historic woodland. A new further education college by Roberts Limbrick Architects is expected to complete at Cinderford Northern Quarter this autumn.

The 110km² Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire is one of the oldest woodlands in England. The area is home to several small towns and villages including Coleford, Cinderford and Lydney.

Cinderford Northern Quarter, masterplanned by Alan Baxter, aims to create around 200 new homes and 1,000 new jobs on a former brownfield site next to the Steam Mills Lake (pictured), which is currently used for recreational activities.

The latest project will deliver two workplace units and 50 new homes with road access and parking. The deadline for applications is 23 July.

Forest of Dean District Council has been asked to comment.


The letter in full

Wendy Jackson
Regeneration Manager
Forest of Dean District Council

4 July 2018

Cinderford Northern Quarter Design Competition

Dear Wendy,

We the undersigned, write to you with concerns about the selection criteria for the Cinderford Northern Quarter Design Competition. The Forest of Dean District Council tender documentation states:

Selection of design consultants will be weighted 70per cent/30 per cent in favour of cost/experience of preparing sustainable design within an environmentally sensitive setting.

We are disappointed and disturbed to see a weighting so heavily skewed in favour of cost. It is generally recognised (by authorities such as the GLA for instance) that there should be a maximum weighting of 30% for cost. Given the particular requirements for this competition, it is even more alarming that a council should determine selection of the design team on these criteria.

These percentages may seem arbitrary but good practice dictates that architects produce detailed resource schedules upon which fees are based. Asking design consultants to submit with the knowledge that cost is more important than their experience will not deliver returns that offer a well-resourced project from an experienced team. Any design consultant with experience of working in ‘environmentally sensitive settings’ knows that these projects need to be adequately resourced. Cutting back on resources in order to reduce cost will result in either; an inexperienced design consultant or under resourced design team winning the project, which leads to the real possibility of poor architecture.

In summary, we strongly advise Forest of Dean District Council to reconsider the financial weighting for this competition, and reverse it in favour of design and quality. Until this is done, we the undersigned will not be tendering for the work and hope other design consultants will also review this criteria carefully.

Yours

Chris Romer-Lee, Studio Octopi
Carl Turner, Carl Turner Architects
Matthew Driscoll, Threefold Architects
Russell Curtis, RCKa and Project Compass CIC
Piers Taylor, Invisible Studio
Al Scott, IF_DO
Ed Burgess, Burgess Architects
Carolina Caicedo, The Decorators
Jerry Tate, Tate Harmer
Rhys Cannon, Gruff
Christian Pinchin, Unit One Architects
Alan Dempsey, Nex
Daniel Leon, Square Feet Architects
Chris Bryant, Alma-Nac
Justin Risley, Stephenson Studio
Diba Salam, Studio DS
Ben Cousins, Cousins & Cousins Architects
Matt Thornley, Gibson Thornley
J-J Lorraine, Morrow+Lorraine
Sophie Goldhill, Liddicoat & Goldhill
Chris Donoghue, Wotton Donoghue
Geoff Morrow, StructureMode
Brian Constant, Constant 

 

Comment: Caroline Cole 

Recognising that civic responsibilities go beyond short-term financial expediency is hard in the current climate. Many councils are strapped for cash and, as a result, reducing costs has become their default position. The problem with this approach is that it discounts other values that are equally within their responsibilities: creating long-term value, adding to the environmental capital, enhancing civic pride and demonstrating best practice, to name a few.

I suspect that the Forest of Dean District Council is keen to engage the services of a clever, intelligent and committed architect, after all the site is within one of the oldest woodlands in England and is, in the council’s own words ‘an environmentally sensitive setting’.

Sadly, the procurement criteria the council has chosen, where cost accounts for a whopping 70 per cent of the marks, are unlikely to find the best architect for the job because a process that seeks primarily to cut costs is bound to focus on money rather than value. Yes, the council will be able to tick the box that said it was looking after the taxpayers’ money in the short-term, but will it be able to say that it has also done the best for the Forest of Dean? I doubt it. As the saying goes: if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

Good architects – those who really bring long-term value to their projects – require proper fees. This doesn’t mean they need to be expensive but they do need realistic fees if they are to deliver of their best. A procurement process that encourages them to cut corners will not deliver excellence.

That said, the blame for poor procurement cannot be handed solely to client organisations like the Forest of Dean District Council. The architectural profession is its own worst enemy and rather than fight for the greater value that it brings to each project, it has rolled over and played along with this sort of financial short-termism.

It is, therefore, refreshing to see that this group of clever, intelligent and committed practices has taken a stance. I would encourage some of our more established and influential practices to also take up the cause.

Caroline Cole is director of architectural consultancy and competition-organiser Colander

  • 10 Comments

Readers' comments (10)

  • John Kellett

    You can add my name to that, and any similar letter. John Kellett KR.eativ: Architects

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  • The whole business of agreeing the price/ quality ratio is often arbitrary and it is really useful that a number of practitioners are collectively arguing for a common approach from public bodies. I suspect there is OJEU procurement guidance on the matter but any guidance is often open to interpretation and again it would be good to have a wider debate

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    I would suggest that even experienced clients don't have the foggiest notion how to assess fee bids. They assume a higher fee estimate must be simply a fatter profit, they cannot get their heads around the fact that higher fees probably are a result of putting more manhours onto the job -and almost always mean a better, cheaper, more efficient building at the end of the day.

    You would think the RIBA would be banging the drum on everyone's behalf to inform the outside world of this, but scarcely a word out of them.

    For some of our specialist activities we see a lot of architects drawings on projects, and it is always obvious who are doing cut-price work. I can imagine a time in the not too distant future when contractors just refuse to price jobs properly because the architect, QS or engineers haven't designed enough detail into the tender.

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  • Most open tendering processes for NHS contracts are like this or even more heavily weighted to fee. It could be that they have worked out this is the only legal way to exclude London architects (20 of the 23 signatures are London based practices) and keep the project local......

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  • This is a problem which is only getting worse.

    Architecture competitions need an overhaul - too many people are doing too much work for free, which is then judged on questionable criteria, and often not by architects.

    The Acle Bridge competition, recently published here, had, according to the competition brief, no architect on the judging panel, and the shortlisted practices get £1k each to develop their schemes, and have to submit a full 3d CAD model as a part of their proposal... So Stage 3+ for £1k... shocking!

    Looking to the RIBA for ethical direction is probably wishful thinking as one could argue that they started this ball rolling?

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  • RIBA could quite easily endeavour to draw a line in the sand on this issue and stipulate a 30/70 cost quality threshold as a minimum standard. 100% qualitative assesment, having a fixed price or fixed 'price range' is also possible.
    An equally important question however might be why does the UK procure so much via PQQ processes only fit for the publics purchase of lavatory rolls, when there are multiple other well established flexible ways to commission under EU Direcfive 2014/24/EU & The Public Contract regulations 2015. Particularly given there are routes specific for architectural services. We are being taken for mugs - supplying lavatory rolls. Hate phone typing....

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  • Here's a thought- If everyone is as good as they think they are then they will score 100% of the qualitative assessment so even if the fee part were 10% it would become the deciding factor anyway. By having a bigger fee part the practices which have long track records could be beaten by others who are trying to get them. Potentially it gives more opportunity to younger studios who are prepared to work at it. Unless we go to a fixed price or the old type fee scale competition on price will always happen.

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  • Caroline Cole is of course quite right - architects can be their own worst enemies.
    So it might be valuable to explore the concensus more widely. Would AJ help & be interested in running a survey to find how many support the excellent actions, and the reasons for it, of those objecting to the Forest of Dean procurement. This needs discussion, more concensus nationally and more support if it is to have wider influence on industry.
    With that knowledge we could be all standing together more confidently

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  • Picking up on Robert Guy's comment, while the 70:30 price/quality balance sends a message as to the purchaser's expectations it is never the case that that ratio reflects the actual significance of one factor over another. As Robert Guy's comment highlights the real question is what is the expected range of marks that will be given for each of the different factors. Given that in most evaluation systems the quality marks will only very rarely go anywhere near zero, and given that the price formula used nearly always creates a very narrow range of scores, it is usually the case that the actual relative impact of price and quality is radically different from the notional maximum value for each factor.

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  • I spoke to the Project Manager on this procurement competition. There are 500 words only allocated to address 'quality'. When pressed I was told that it would be adequate to say in what way you have worked on environmentally sensitive sites. Basically they are seeking an architect who has 'done it before'- so lowering risk- and the cheapest. There is no indication at all that this client has any interest in quality. Sad that ambition on such important sites is zero.

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