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Full cost of Ipswich’s Upper Orwell Crossings fiasco revealed

Foster orwell crossings crop
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Suffolk County Council has detailed the total cost of the Upper Orwell Crossings. The Foster + Partners project was scrapped amid rising costs following a much-criticised RIBA competition 

The local authority spent a total of £8.1 million on the scheme – including £77,900 on the RIBA competition, £4 million paid to engineering giant WSP, and £179,100 paid to Fosters.

The final bill comes three months after the council’s cabinet voted to abandon the main element of the multi-bridge scheme for which expected costs had ballooned by 40 per cent to £139 million.

The RIBA-run contest was beset by serious questions such as why the practice was allowed a late-in-the-day fee reduction, which should not have been permitted under the rules.

The council’s Labour group leader Sarah Adams said: ‘The really worrying thing for me is the lack of humility shown in the aftermath. Over £8 million was lost on this vanity project, but no-one has stood up to take responsibility for this farce.

‘There needs to be an urgent review of the system to ensure that this cannot happen again.’

Upper Orwell Crossings final costs

Upper Orwell Crossings final costs

Upper Orwell Crossings final costs

In a lengthy investigation published last April, the AJ revealed details of serious irregularities in the RIBA competition. Foster & Partners triumphed following a last-minute reduction in its fee – to just 0.8 per cent of the original budget for the project – which should not have been allowed under the contest’s rules.

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 both Michael and Patty Hopkins – married business partners at Hopkins Architects – were on the jury and submitted extremely high and near-identical marks for the winning entry.

It later emerged in October that the cost of the bridge 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 £122 million and £140 million. The estimated cost in the outline business case was just £97 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.

The Labour leader described the Upper Orwell Crossing as a ‘reckless gamble with public money’ and suggested organisations such as RIBA should ‘think twice before entering into projects of this nature with an authority who look for an easy fix rather than putting in the necessary work’.

Sarah adams suffolk web

Sarah adams suffolk web

Sarah Adams, leader of the Labour group at Suffolk County Council

Adams said: ‘I sympathise with the architects who will feel like they wasted their time and money in bidding for this proposal. This was a project of major local and regional significance, so it is incredibly disappointing that proper oversight and accountability was so obviously missing.

I sympathise with the architects who will feel like they wasted their time and money

‘If the RIBA wishes to endorse large infrastructure projects in the future, far more clarity and transparency will be needed to guarantee that the process is robust and fair.’

Architect and procurement reform campaigner Walter Menteth said: ‘The public rightly will also ask how on earth £4.4 million of consultants fees was wasted and additional money wasted on an RIBA-approved competition. When the irregularities became apparent it should have been cancelled immediately.

‘For a royal institute charged with upholding professional standards, this is a shameful day. There is now an urgent need for transparency from the RIBA and for this matter to be brought to early public account if further reputational damage is to be avoided’

He added: ‘For years competitive procurement has been a bane to members who have sought leadership for reform, which as an issue RIBA have repeatedly shirked. This is now utterly untenable and must be addressed.’

Upper Orwell Crossings final costs

Upper Orwell Crossings final costs

Upper Orwell Crossings final costs 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Industry Professional

    As a civil engineer, accepting that things have gone wrong, it would be good to know how much of WSP'S work, such as any engineering studies into perhaps say local traffic, is of no future use at all? Also, the ground investigation could still be valid for a future project.

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