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Critics accuse TfL of ‘pre-judging’ 2013 Garden Bridge contest

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Heatherwick outscored Wilkinson Eyre on bridge design experience, FOI response reveals

The bridge contest which saw Thomas Heatherwick appointed for the Garden Bridge was ‘pre-judged’, critics have claimed, after it emerged that his firm was given higher marks for design experience than two of the UK’s most experienced bridge architects.

Heatherwick Studio went up against Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield in early 2013 after Transport for London issued an invitation to tender for a Thames footbridge designer.

However, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by AJ has now revealed that Heatherwick was given a score of 4/5 for ‘relevant design experience’ while the other two firms received just 3/5 in the category, which was worth 25 per cent of the overall evaluation (see document right, attached).

Heatherwick has previously completed just one bridge – the controversial ‘Rolling Bridge’ at Paddington Basin while Wilkinson Eyre has designed more than 25 bridges including the Stirling Prize winning Gateshead Millennium bridge.

Millennium Bridge Newcastle

London Eye designer Marks Barfield has also designed a large number of successful bridge projects.

Last month, a previous FOI request by AJ revealed a handwritten May 2012 letter from Garden Bridge backer Joanna Lumley to Mayor of London Boris Johnson in which pitched the idea and suggested a meeting with herself and Heatherwick to discuss it.

The £175 million project – which now has planning permission from both Westminster and Lambeth councils – was originally billed as being 100 per cent private-sector funded, but now has £60 million of public funding from the mayor of London and the Treasury.

Walter Menteth, an architect and former chairman of the RIBA procurement reform group, described TfL’s scoring for the contest as ‘extraordinary’.

He said: ‘The scoring does not make any sense. The fact that Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre scored considerably lower than Heatherwick for design experience in a bridge competition raises serious questions about the process.

‘Heatherwick’s bid does not appear to respond to the brief and all the indications are that it was pre-judged on the basis of approaches made prior to the tender. Indeed, the solution of the Garden Bridge had already been aired directly to mayor Boris Johnson by Joanna Lumley in her letter of May 2012.’

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the London Assembly, Caroline Pigeon said:‘The more that is revealed about how the contract for the Garden Bridge was awarded by TfL the more questions start to arise. It certainly seems hard to justify how, for example, Heatherwick was awarded the highest marks for its design experience when its rivals had so much more experience in designing bridges. Now that this information is out in the open I hope a full explanation can be given by TfL to counter the legitimate claims that the awarding of the contract was far from even handed.

Pidgeon added that she was concerned by a 2013 BBC interview with Lumley in which Lumley was asked how she has got support from the mayor for the Garden Bridge and replied: ‘I’ve known Boris since he was four so he’s largely quite amenable.’

Pidgeon said: ‘Public sector contracts should always be won a fair, competitive basis and never on the basis of who knows who. The waters around the Garden Bridge project just get muddier and muddier.’

Labour London Assembly member John Biggs said he too was ‘very concerned’ by the scoring process.

He said: ‘It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Boris Johnson has always favoured Joanne Lumley’s Garden Bridge project.

‘Let’s not forget, this is a project that’s set to eat away at least £60m in taxpayer investment. The Mayor and all interested parties have an unavoidable duty to act transparently and fairly and we’ll be looking very closely to identify whether the correct procedures were followed.’

In TfL’s scoring, Heatherwick is also given higher marks than the other two firms for ‘understanding the brief’ and receives an overall score of 72.5% compared to Marks Barfield’s 65 per cent and Wilkinson Eyre’s 62.5 per cent.

The FOI reply redacted Heatherwick’s winning fee bid but revealed that one of the architects had put in a bid of around £50,000 while the other a bid of approximately £15,000. Nevertheless, all three competitors were awarded a score of 3/5 for cost or ‘daily rates’.

A spokesman for TfL said it was satisfied that a ‘robust and proper process’ had taken place.

He said: ‘An initial tender was issued in January 2013 to select a designer to develop the concept for a new bridge across the Thames in central London.  This was issued to three designers/architects as the time there was no approved TfL architectural framework in place, with the contract awarded to Heatherwick Studio in February 2013.’

Heatherwick Studio, Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre all declined to comment.

Thomas Heatherwick's Rolling Bridge at Paddington basin

Thomas Heatherwick’s Rolling Bridge at Paddington basin

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • TfL is clearly corrupt in its practices, and inadequately supervised. Boris Johnson is a sucker for any daft vanity project that comes along, whether bicycles, funiculars, buses or bridges. And unfortunately its clear that the dilettante Heatherwick is his pet. The quicker he goes the better. Wake up GLA members.

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  • This is more like a story from Putin's Moscow - or am I being naive?

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  • One more question that nobody seems to be asking is how Marks Barfield could be put on the same bridge experience footing as Wilkinson Ayre, the UK’s most prolific bridge designing architects. MB’s website shows two small bridge projects and some competition entries… This farce goes on, on many levels… Emperor’s new clothes and knickers too… Good luck to us all who work in this field…

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  • Seems that with the possible demise of the Battersea-Pimlico bridge and the extensive and excellent range of offerings in that competition, there may be a way of getting a team together to develop ideas for this garden bridge idea - if it's going to happen.

    Heatherwik's curiously fluted fan shapes are interesting, if not bizarre, and its always good to have a choice, particularly with public money being at hand (if it still is) and for a very high profile site location.

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  • Michael Edwards: for 'very high profile' read: Very obstructive monument to self-regarding egos, messing up the riverscape on a much loved stretch of the Thames.

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