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Jane Duncan changes tack on Garden Bridge

Heatherwick Garden Bridge

RIBA president Jane Duncan has changed her stance on the controversial Garden Bridge project and is no longer calling for it to be stopped

Earlier this year Duncan wrote to former mayor Boris Johnson and Transport for London (TfL) expressing her concerns over the procurement of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme and urging the £175 million project to be temporarily halted.

However, just days after RIBA London passed a new motion for the ’project to be put on hold while the process is opened up to full and detailed independent scrutiny’, Duncan has told the AJ she has now dropped that demand.

Duncan insists her change in position is for pragmatic reasons and has maintained her demand for an independent inquiry into the ‘flawed procurement process’. It is understood Duncan has also met TfL since speaking out in February. 

In a statement to the AJ, Duncan said: ‘Things have changed and further details have emerged since I made my statement in February, including the appointment of London’s new mayor who has highlighted the failings in the procurement of the project and committed to full transparency on it. He has also raised concerns about the impact on the public purse of halting the project at this stage.’

She added: ‘In that context, I am very aware, with regret, that the project is unlikely to be put on hold at this stage but I believe there is a real need for full, independent and detailed scrutiny of the procurement.’

Her comments in February - which responded to AJ’s long-running investigation into the Garden Bridge design competitions - were ‘very specifically about the flawed procurement process’, said Duncan. Since that time, ‘positive discussions’ have been held with TfL about making improvements ‘so that future public procurement projects in London and throughout the UK are delivered to the high standards the public expect and deserve.’

The RIBA president’s clarification over her current position comes after the AJ revealed how RIBA Council members will debate a motion calling for the project to be put on hold pending an investigation into the procurement. This matter will be discussed at a RIBA Council meeting in Portland Place, London on 29 June.



Readers' comments (6)

  • Oh Jane, Jane, Jane... It really doesn't matter how Sadiq has been so easily mugged by the Garden Bridge Trust and his own TfL Commissioner, this project is not going ahead, because it can't: they are £32m short on capital (and have only raised £18m over the past 2 years); they don't have an interest in the land to build the bridge yet, and Lambeth are facing a Judicial Review for even considering disposing of the open space on the South Bank; they don't have the £3m annual revenue covered; they don't have permission from the PLA or an implementable planning permission until they get the above sorted, which can only be done by Sadiq... who has already said he won't put in more public money into the project, so can't sign a 'guarantee' underwriting the revenue - and if he tries to he will face a second Judicial Review which has been waiting in the wings for some months (it was originally aimed at Boris, but he departed without ever signing the guarantee...). Oh, and have I mentioned the engineering problems they've hit at the Temple?

    Unfortunately all Sadiq has revealed is that he is completely under-advised by his jumped up special advisers and is overwhelmed by the practical detail of this mess, and that his modus operandi is likely to ensure he is London's first one-term Mayor.

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    The RIBA must remember its purpose; the advancement of Architecture. There is hardly a project anywhere, especially in London, which does not have its opponents and detractors. The high profile Garden Bridge is no exception. The arguments as to whether or not the public support development belongs to the planning process and to Council chambers, not the RIBA. The Institute must stick to it's central challenge of improving the context for the practice of Architecture and championing and supporting the great work that architects do. It should not attempt to go beyond its political legitimacy and reach. Jane Duncan is right to focus on the procurement issues and seek an outcome that will benefit architects, and possibly compensate anyone unfairly treated in the selection of consultants for the bridge. To try and stop the project, especially now, would be tilting at windmills.
    Ben Derbyshire, Chair HTA Design LLP.

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  • Jane's original statement was that the project should be 'halted' so that an in depth investigation could take place. Without it being halted any investigation would simply be a retrospective look and what should have been done and (apart from any criminal proceeding that arise from it) there would be no consequence on the actual project. The RIBA's job is to represent the professional practice of architecture and Jane was right to say what she did and it would seem that her position has not really changed but the circumstances (funding spent, new Mayor etc.) have and that it what her position recognises. The project absolutely should be halted, of course it should. It is possible that a crime has taken place - would you allow a suspected burglary to be completed before trying to stop it?

    The Bridge is hugely unpopular amoungst knowledgable members of public, and despite the lead designer not being an architect he is to all intents and purposes in the eyes of the press and public. The project is is bringing the title of Architect into disrepute. This is why the RIBA should stand strong- its exactly this kind of project that makes the public dislike or stereotype architects as wasteful luvies.

    My strong view against this scheme is very simple - we are in a climate battle and building vast unnecessary things is exactly what will harm future generations. This structure is not environmentally friendly. The reality is that not building the ‘garden bridge’ will be better for the environment than building it. It is not a viable infrastructure project and it is not an environmentally driven venture. If built, it will be the most expensive environmentally unfriendly private garden in the world at the centre of one of world’s greatest cities.

    Greenpeace, the Green Party, The RSPB, Trees for Cities, The Gorilla Gardener and many other respected environmental experts do not support the ‘garden bridge’- in fact I cannot find any organisation knowledgeable of sustainability issues that does.

    The reality is that the foliage softens the edges of a vast concrete beast of a structure that punches its way through protected riverbed habitats and a protected view of St Pauls Cathedral whilst ripping down 31 mature trees and concreting over public green space. If it becomes a landmark it will be one to an epoch of extreme waste and excess, it will be a bloated dinosaur representing a bygone time of irresponsible construction straddling the river for all to see at the centre of our great capital.

    There are many issues beyond the sustainability problem. Theses include the procurement, the circular funding strategy, the extraordinary price tag of £175m minimum, the fact that it is private with no public right of way, opening hours, the 'rules' and the vast commercial space that will concrete over the existing greenspace. All of these issues and others can be read about in detail through links at: http://www.tcos.org.uk/

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  • Oh and sherif is correct. To elaborate on the technical challenges at the Westminster end: 1000's of cantilevered tonnes of soil, concrete and a few trees are trying to pull the tube station out of the ground. Anchor piles here will be extraordinary given the tube line position, potentially closing the line for months or causing damage. Probably best to redistribute weight/soil and tree positions which will mean a redesign or a large area with not much planting at all- either way costs are only going in one direction

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  • Ben Derbyshire states that "the RIBA must remember its purpose; the advancement of Architecture”. Oddly however, this completely ignores the other purpose highlighted on the RIBA website, which is that the institute also works is "to influence UK government policy and legislation that impacts on the profession".

    The call from RIBA London Region is about UK legislation that impacts on architects - not just in London but across the country. The motion has nothing to do with planning considerations or the usual arguments by supporters & opponents of major projects. It is not about taking sides.

    Ben Derbyshire also spoke out against this motion last week, arguing it would be sufficient to compensate anyone found to have been unfairly treated under an unfair procurement process. This however completely misses the point that by the same token another party must then have had an advantage. The legislation in question sets out to ensure that all bidders for work funded by public money must be treated equally and transparently, and that no party should have an advantage over another. It also seeks to ensure that no party should gain from having had an unfair advantage.

    Ben Derbyshire insists the RIBA President should focus on procurement but, again somewhat oddly, he has already stated publically that he will vote against the motion because it goes beyond the RIBA's remit. I don’t quite follow.

    How can challenging the fairness of a procurement proceedure and the implications to architects be construed as a professional institute going “beyond its political legitimacy and reach”? In failing to support a simple motion about procurement does the RIBA not then run the risk of being considered less than impartial?

    I agree with Jane Duncan in considering the practicalities of halting the project at this stage. Regardless of the difficulties, and whether or not such a motion will prevail, this does however have to be weighed up against the implications of not doing standing up for its members. What happens if the process isn't halted (or other suitable sanction applied) and after detailed scrutiny it turns out that the process was not in accordance with the necessary legislation? Are we then told that its too late...that too much money has already been committed...that this project is just too big to fail? If there is no principled stand and lessons have not been learned, what will be the implications for procurement procedures beyond the Garden Bridge?

    Ben has previously spoken about the importance of the RIBA maintaining “high level principles” and “professional ethics” and I trust he will support the notion that such high principles, together with balance and impartiality, must be the primary consideration for RIBA Council when this motion is debated more fully next week.

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  • '...for pragmatic reasons.....the impact on the public purse of halting the project at this stage'
    The public purse's contribution to this project of tens of millions of pounds seems to have been loaded 'up front' and I think the polite phrase is 'arm-twisting' - although a more cynical description would be blackmail.
    Sadiq Khan needs to show some spine, and the RIBA needs to watch that it hasn't sprung a leak that could badly damage it, and the profession.

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