Councillors will next week vote on whether to scrap the main element of Foster + Partners’ controversial £139 million multi-bridge scheme in Ipswich
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet will be asked to halt work immediately on the Upper Orwell Crossings project, which Fosters won following a contentious RIBA contest, after costs ballooned by 40 per cent.
A report to the local authority called for the axing of Crossing A – a grand opening-bridge that would allow vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians to travel over the river from Wherstead Road to Holywells Road while maintaining a navigable channel for boats.
Crossings B and C – much smaller bridges connecting Wet Dock Island to the east and west banks of the River Orwell – could still be built, but would rely on new funding.
The report, written for the cabinet by council assistant environment director Bryn Griffiths, said: ‘The council does not have enough capital resources to fill the funding gap between the current project cost estimate and the Department for Transport funding of £77.5 million.
‘Exploration of additional funding opportunities has not been successful, so the county council does not have enough funds for the existing project to proceed.’
It emerged in October that the cost of Fosters’ scheme had soared by up to 40 per cent. An independent report into projected costs, carried out for the council by engineer Jacobs, estimated a likely price of between £121.5 million and £139.8 million. The estimated cost in the Outline Business Case was £96.6 million.
While the Jacobs report did not consider procurement costs, the council said the process of appointing an architect had ‘incurred additional cost’ as had a number of design changes.
In a lengthy investigation published in April 2018, the AJ revealed details of the highly irregular RIBA competition won by Foster + Partners. The practice triumphed following a last-minute reduction in its fee – to just 0.8 per cent of the original budget for the project – which it was claimed should not have been allowed under the rules of the contest.
It also came to light that the RIBA played no role in the procurement process, despite lending its name to the competition; that highly sensitive fee data was leaked to participants both during and after the competition; and that Michael and Patty Hopkins – married business partners – were both on the jury and submitted near identical marks for the winning team.
Back in 2016 – shortly after the contest was launched – Cezary Bednarski of Studio Bednarski described it as ’easily the most badly set up UK bridge design competition’.
Foster + Partners, Suffolk County Council and the RIBA have been contacted for comment.
William Matthews Associates founder William Matthews said: ’As it evolved, the Upper Orwell competition became increasingly questionable for all the teams. How the RIBA saw fit to promote it is surprising.
’In the end Foster + Partners won with a very competitive fee proposal. Yet the actual designs we all submitted were not costed. The losing entries have all been published but details of the winning scheme are sparse. From what we have seen, it doesn’t look cheap so maybe it’s no surprise that the project should end this way.
’This is sad for Ipswich. I won’t enter the debate as to whether the bridge is actually required, but considerable sums of money will have been wasted by the local authorities at a time when none is to spare.
’There are lots of lessons to be learnt from this. Personally I feel this should start with the RIBA. A competition where fees represent 30 per cent of the judging score, and yet less than 1 per cent of the construction costs is not a good way of ensuring good design. Surely the RIBA should be calling this out as poor procurement and poor for the profession instead of promoting it?’