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Leading architects slam Garden Bridge procurement process

Garden bridge underbridge viewp
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Calamitous procurements such as the aborted Garden Bridge process could be avoided by changes to contract award regulations, according to a group of 19 high-profile architects

The group includes Sarah Wigglesworth, Iain Ritchie, founding partner of Richard Rogers Partnership Mike Davies, and Brady Mallalieu Architects director and former RIBA president Angela Brady.

They have written to Len Duvall, chair of the Greater London Assembly (GLA) Oversight Committee, suggesting an amendment to the Public Contract Regulations 2015.

Its letter argues that procurement regulations could be improved by allowing public bodies to appoint teams of peer reviewers to assess proposals.

A statement sent to AJ from the group said: ‘Bad law and regulations drive bad practices and ultimately can lead to the system being undermined. It is clear this was a driver in the matters surrounding the Garden Bridge procurement specifically.

‘This issue, however, should be seen in the wider context of UK procurement constraints.

‘By clarifying the ambiguities in the regulations, by a better system having a determination by independent peer review that is justifiably sound under the regulations, opportunities can be opened up.’

The letter proposes that consideration should be given to clarifying governance, through a standing order across the Transport for London (TfL)/GLA family, or by national provision through a procurement policy note.

‘This would allow us all to benefit from the positive and creative endeavours of those developing built environment ideas for public good,’ it said.

The architects also argue that ambiguity contained within current tender regulations deters procurement departments from supporting bottom-up initiatives.

Current rules allow for a ‘negotiated procedure without prior publication’, which the architects say offers potential for clients to procure plans without opening them up to competition.

However, the route can only be used ‘when no reasonable alternative or substitute exists and the absence of competition is not the result of an artificial narrowing down of the parameters of the procurement’.

The architects claim this route is more widely used on the continent because guidance for public bodies exists there.

Their letter said a lack of similar guidance in the UK effectively locks out many of those who would be particularly well placed to support ‘bottom up’ endeavours, whether for example through the engagement of design professionals with their communities or by creating imaginative and valuable design ideas contributing to the city’s wider needs, vitality and wellbeing.’

The alternative route could be opened up, according to the architects, if clarification of the clause were provided.

‘What is needed is a process by which a project can be transparently and clearly evidenced as delivering value, probity, fairness and quality in the best interests of the public,’ the letter said.

The group wrote to the committee following a GLA Oversight Committee meeting on 11 October, when Duvall said he was willing to work with TfL in obtaining legal advice on whether officials involved with spending decisions on the Garden Bridge are guilty of illegal misconduct.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • A very timely initiative, coming as it does just when there's wide public focus on the amount of 'wriggle room' that's been enabling the powerful and greedy to get away with quite outrageous behaviour, whether it's screwing the country or exploiting the vulnerable for their own ends.

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