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Boris hits backs at RIBA over Garden Bridge

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Jane Duncan shrugs off letter from London mayor which claimed Institute doesn’t ‘fully understand’ procurement of £175m scheme

RIBA president Jane Duncan has repeated her call for an ‘urgent’ independent probe into the procurement of the Garden Bridge after London mayor Boris Johnson wrote to her suggesting the delivery model for the £175m project should be ‘replicated’.

Earlier this month Duncan told the Architects’ Journal that the Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme should be put on hold to allow a full investigation of its procurement and wrote to the mayor on 9 February setting out her ‘extreme concerns’.

Two days later Johnson responded in a letter describing allegations that the process was unfair ‘wholly unfounded’ (see file attached).

In the letter, Johnson wrote: ‘I appreciate that the model of delivery being adopted for the Garden Bridge is a novel one, and that this may have confused some commentators in the media. There have been so many false reports and statements made about this project – what it is there to deliver and how it will be funded and operated – and I would urge your organisation to fully understand the background to the project before commenting further.

‘Furthermore, the model for delivery of this project is proving successful and I am optimistic about its potential for replication in future to deliver other wonderful additions to London’s landscape through private endeavour and charitable donations. The public funding element of the project is being used to secure considerable private sector investment – currently at £85m from the private sector and rising, which is a huge achievement.’

TfL commissioner Mike Brown also wrote to Duncan backing Johnson’s claims.

Brown wrote of TfL’s 2013 contest between Heatherwick Studio, Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre: ‘Everybody was treated fairly and there was no bias in our assessment and as a result there was no criticism or challenge from any of the other bidding parties.’

His letter continued: ‘There have been many false reports and statements made about this project. Given that, I would like to express my disappointment that having written to the mayor about your concerns, you chose to provide comment to the press immediately, before giving the mayor or TfL an opportunity to respond.

‘With so much incorrect reporting it is not helpful in my view when respected members of the professional community elect to speak to the press before providing all parties the opportunity to clarify the facts of the situation.’

However, in her response to the letters, Duncan did not retract her demand for an independent investigation and pointed out that TfL’s internal audit - which many observers have labelled a ‘whitewash’ - had found ‘significant weaknesses’ in the process.

In her letter to Johnson she wrote: ‘With so many high-profile projects currently being considered, I remain of the opinion that there is an urgent need for an independent external assessment of the procurement process for the Garden Bridge project.

‘I know you will share my concerns around the need to reassure the public that their money will be spent effectively by TfL and hope you will be able to use your remaining time in office to do that.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Apart from Boris's usual obfuscation about the process the most disturbing aspect of this response is that he believes it should become a precedent for future projects! Surely an even stronger reason for investigating it thoroughly.

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  • It's not so much that the RIBA 'doesn't fully understand' the procurement process (it clearly does) as that an ambitious and over confident politician 'doesn't fully understand' that he's walking on very thin ice indeed.

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