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Foster + Partners’ contentious Ipswich bridge project put on hold

Fosterorwellcompetition webcrop
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Foster + Partners’ contentious £100 million bridge project for the River Orwell in Ipswich has been put on hold by Suffolk County Council due to fears over rising costs

The AJ100 top-ranked company’s Upper Orwell Crossings scheme was already mired in controversy after serious irregularities were uncovered over how the RIBA-backed competition for the project was run in 2017.

Still in planning stages, the proposals to build three bridges close to Ipswich town centre and waterfront was originally calculated to cost £97 million, with around three-quarters of the funding coming from the government.

But Suffolk council’s new leader, Matthew Hicks, has suspended the project after he said an internal review of costs predicted the amount needed to complete the project could ‘increase significantly’.

Hicks has now launched an independent review of the project, with the outcome expected to be announced next month.

In a statement, Hicks said: ‘Since becoming leader, I have asked my senior team to review the major infrastructure projects Suffolk County Council is working on. The Upper Orwell Crossings is one of the biggest and most complex.

‘It’s clear to me that while the significant project is being managed well, there is currently some uncertainty around the costs. If we’re going to proceed and build these bridges, that uncertainty needs to be addressed right now.’

The infrastructure project would create a major road bridge from the west bank of the Orwell River to Cliff Quay on the east side, as well opening up the Island Site with a smaller bridge across the New Cut and pedestrian and cycle access across the lock gates. 

Foster + Partner’s winning scheme, praised by the judges for its ‘elegant simplicity’ features a large road bridge with a lower level pedestrian route attached to its piers.

It marked a long-awaited return by the practice to Ipswich – the home of the practice’s breakthrough Willis Faber & Dumas Building of 1975.

But serious questions were later asked over the procurement process after it emerged that the practice was allowed a late-in-the-day fee reduction, which should not have been permitted under the rules.

It also came to light that the RIBA played no role in the formal procurement process, despite lending its name to the competition and that highly sensitive fee data was leaked to participants both during the competition and afterwards.

Suffolk County Council’s decision to review the Upper Orwell Crossings has been welcomed by Ipswich MP Sandy Martin, who has raised doubts over the project since he was elected to parliament last year.

‘I think it is a very sensible decision and it will give the council an opportunity to look again at a project with some very substantial costs,’ he told the East Anglian Daily Times.

Hicks said a final decision on the project will be made in September based on ‘sound and independent advice’.

Foster + Partners were approached for comment.

Foster partners orwell bridges contest

Foster partners orwell bridges contest

Foster + Partners’ Upper Orwell competition-winning scheme

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