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Atkins wins controversial Rotherhithe bridge battle

re form rotherhithe bridge
  • 7 Comments

Atkins has won a heavily scrutinised battle to design the proposed Rotherhithe-to-Canary Wharf crossing in south-east London

The consultancy giant will provide engineering and architectural support for the scheme after being chosen from firms on the multidisciplinary services lot of Transport for London’s professional services framework.

Southwark-based ReForm Architects, which registered its own designs for a proposed crossing at the location, revealed last month that it was seeking legal advice over the way TfL had run the design services contest.

Caroline Pidgeon, deputy chair of the London Assembly transport committee, subsequently wrote to TfL general counsel Howard Carter demanding an investigation into the controversial design-support selection process.

The controversy centred on a technical scoping study carried out by another design consultancy, Arcadis, which is understood to have advised against the bascule-type bridge proposed by ReForm. TfL subsequently allowed Arcadis to bid for the design support contract, although it remains unclear whether the firm took advantage of this opportunity. 

A TfL spokesperson said today: ’Following a competitive procurement process from our multidisciplinary services framework, we have now appointed Atkins to provide engineering and architectural support which will inform the next stages of procurement, as well as the Transport and Works Act Order application for a new proposed crossing between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.

’This crossing would provide a much-needed walking and cycling connection between the two areas. We will shortly be publishing the results of our recent public consultation, which sought views on a variety of matters, including the need for a crossing, whether a bridge is the best option, and various aspects of bridge design. While a navigable bridge is TfL’s preference, no final decisions have been made on any specific aspects of design or location and no party has been excluded from any stage of the process.’

After assessing various types of bridge, including a bascule, Arcadis’s feasibility study concluded that either a lift or swing bridge were ‘most appropriate at this stage’.

A TfL document as part of the design role bid process pointed out that ‘feasibility work suggests it will either be a swing or lifting bridge …’ and added that the ambition was ‘to improve upon and refine the … design from the feasibility study’.

Randall said earlier this year: ‘It is unbelievable that they can have this in bidding documents and then claim they are open to the best ideas.

‘We talked to members of the framework; we were in contact with what we thought were the front-runners and several expressed an interest but said they would need to see what TfL was asking for. Once details came out, they did not need us.

‘The [framework firms] are competent and can design a swing bridge from scratch; the advantage we had was having something ready to go so we would have been attractive if that could have been included.’

Pidgeon wrote to Carter last month: ‘How can it be right that TfL has paid for work by a company Arcadis, where they have effectively ruled out one form of bridge, and then the process allows Arcadis to bid for this piece of work? This does not feel comfortable at all and I am sure in terms of the public’s view, they would think that TfL is not acting properly and allowing all options to be assessed.’

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan appeared to snub the ReForm designs as long ago as last summer when he said: ‘TfL recognises that things move very quickly.

‘There is a design out there which is a number of years old now, so one of the reasons TfL is keen to have the procurement process is because there could be innovations around the world that could be lead to something quicker, cheaper and of higher quality.’

And he added at the time: ‘TfL has appointed Arcadis to develop the designs and ensure the scheme is cost-effective – for example, what type of bridge it will be.’

TfL has insisted that feasibility work did not advantage anyone in bidding for the next stage of design work because the appointment would be based on the capabilities of the team, rather than the evaluation of a design.

’We shared Arcadis’s initial report with all bidders simply in the interests of transparency,’ a spokesman said last month. ’Our commercial team also provided ReForm with the details of the consultants on our framework as part of our current procurement for a multidisciplinary team, so they could explore options to be part of a bidding team. It is for ReForm to pursue this, rather than for us to require such an arrangement.’

The spokesperson added at the time: ‘Within Arcadis’s Bridge Options report, it clearly states that future design stages need not be restricted exclusively to its conclusions … accordingly, the ReForm option of a bascule bridge has neither been included or precluded as part of this process.’

The scope document for the architectural services role awarded to Atkins said the commission included providing ’… architectural… services to produce a single option design for a Temporary Works Act Order application up to and including RIBA stage four’.

A TfL consultation over factors such as which of three alignments were preferred for the crossing, and how high it should be, closed in January. A second consultation is expected this year to allow interested parties to comment on the detailed designs drawn up following this first view-seeking exercise.

A planning application could follow in 2019 and the mayor said last summer that he was looking for a start on site ‘as soon as possible’.

Arcadis has been contacted for comment.

  • 7 Comments

Readers' comments (7)

  • There is not much logic on pursuing a bridge in this location. A tunnel would offer by far more rational solution in terms of functionality usability as well as cost. And the challenge would be to design the most enticing glorious green tunnel on this planet. One that can be used at all times, regardless of navigation and weather, and one that would not need 800m long ramps at both ends, this for starters... Another 'Garden Bridge' in the brew...?

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  • Oh for a pedestrian bridge that already has planning consent, is in all the Local Authority Plans, has a strong business and transport case, is supported by locals and businesses alike, has commenced on site, and has 1/3rd of the required funding...and could be completed with 2 years... oh wait - there is one

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  • Whilst there was always something strangely arbitrary about the garden bridge surely a bridge in Rotherhithe might be a good idea. I was once working in Rotherhithe and someone asked me directions to enable them to walk to Canary Wharf. All I could think of was to suggest they get on a tube train.
    I see the last post claimed that a tunnel is a more rational solution. Perhaps he/she would care to expand on the 800m ramps claim etc. It would seem to me that one of the reasons most of London’s docklands is so disappointing is the public spaces between buildings is often either badly designed or has not been considered at all. Surely a bridge at this location could be a handsome addition to the public realm?

    I know a tunnel is more economical in terms of avoiding use of surface land etc. The Limehouse Tunnel, which was apparently the idea of Ian Ritchie, certainly made Canary Wharf more accessible.

    A bridge, however, open to light and views, would surely be a better solution. This is surely intended to relieve pressure on the nearby Rotherhithe tunnel and provide a route for cyclists and pedestrians.

    You could say the same for the proposed bridges at Kew and Nine Elms which will surely enliven the public realm of London’s greatest public space, The River Thames.

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  • Kieran, my argument is very specific and technical, but I am not at liberty to discuss it in more detail on a public forum. I am on the TfL advisory panel for this crossing.

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  • Atkins showcase their bridges on their website here: http://www.atkinsglobal.com/en-GB/projects?search=true&freetext=Bridges&ac=1 makes one wonder about the balance of the selection criteria. Isn't it time such selections were transparent with the public more fully engaged. It is possible so why not?

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  • Presumably we have learnt the lessons of the Garden Bridge? The buffoon who didn’t build it is now in charge of foreign policy, so that’s OK?!

    An open concept design competition will produce an exciting and buildable proposal without wasting time or money? Bridges signal their presence and contribute to the pleasure in the everyday?

    Stop messing around and do it. We are trying to build a pedestrian and cycling bridge from Brentford to Kew Gardens here in London. It will benefit everyone, and might be usable to remove plastic waste and debris before it pollutes the boat race course and beyond.

    We need engineers, not bureaucrats and politicians?

    Build bridges?!

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  • David's point reinforces one I have made previously. The delivery of infrastructure should be based on the results it will provide as described by the cost:benefit ratio proven by verifiable modelling. This has been carried out by TfL and others on several proposals, such as the Diamond Jubilee Bridge/Cremorne Bridge, but (historically at least) it is not they who prioritise funding - it is the Mayor. In Mayor Johnson's case he essentially raided TfL's coffers to fund a pet project which was not in any transport plan. Other bridges were in the relevant plans and would have been completed with that funding but due to a politicians whim rather than an engineers calculation the funding has been squandered and the transport issues remain. The pet projects should be set aside and real beneficial infrastructure built. My point being that I believe it is time for a more scientific approach to delivering infrastructure, time to put politics aside, and make the vast amounts of money being spent work harder for us all, equitably. If tis means that the Mayor of London is no longer head of TfL then so be it.

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