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London Mayor orders probe into Rotherhithe crossing procurement

Rotherhithe bridge

Sadiq Khan has promised an internal inquiry into ‘very serious concerns’ raised about the procurement of the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing, for which Knight Architects has been appointed in a key design role

The mayor of London said he would detail deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander to look into issues (see below) over the crossing’s procurement raised by London Assembly transport committee deputy chair Caroline Pidgeon.

Khan was quizzed over the controversial procurement process for the east London crossing at mayor’s question time last week. Pidgeon said the selection process ‘didn’t smell right’ and compared it to the ill-fated Garden Bridge, which Khan ditched last year following years of criticism over its procurement.

Pidgeon said: ‘I am concerned that Transport for London (TfL), in trying to avoid another Garden Bridge, has almost gone to the other extreme and effectively blocked an existing design from entering the tendering process, yet allowed a competitor who advised on the procurement to bid for the work. Would you ask your auditors to review this and ensure TfL has acted properly?’

Khan said he was assured that no rules had been broken in the procurement of designers for the Rotherhithe crossing.

But he added: ‘I am happy to ask my deputy mayor Heidi Alexander to look into the concerns you’ve raised. I’m not sure if an audit is necessary but, subject to what the deputy mayor concludes, I’d be happy to have TfL looked into.’

TfL denied an investigation would be taking place and pointed to Khan’s later clarification that Alexander would meet with Pidgeon to ‘discuss her very serious concerns’.

Meanwhile Khan said the crossing could be open as soon as 2024 if everything went smoothly.

‘The current estimated opening date is during 2024, which is an ambitious time scale,’ he said. ‘There is a lot of work to do but it is a high-priority project.’

He added: ‘The Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing is an important and unique part of my vision for healthy streets. It will be London’s first ever cycling and walking bridge of its kind, and among one of the longest bridges open to vessel crossings in the world.’

Khan said the next steps were another public consultation, development of detailed proposals then an application for a Transport and Works Act order.

‘TfL expects a decision on that within 12-24 months from the secretary of state following an application in 2019. This would give TfL the power to acquire land, build and operate the crossing.

‘We anticipate it will take three to four years to construct the bridge and test operational procedures.’

Knight declined to comment. Atkins, TfL and ReForm Architects have been contacted for comment.

Troubled water: Knight Architects and the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing

High Wycombe-based architect Knight was appointed by consultancy Atkins to offer architectural support to the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing. Atkins won a heavily scrutinised battle to design the proposed bridge earlier this year.

The controversy surrounding Knight’s appointment stems from its previous role on the project with another consultancy, Arcadis, which it helped draw up a technical scoping study for the crossing.

After assessing various types of bridge, including a bascule, the Arcadis-led feasibility study concluded that either a lift or swing bridge were ‘most appropriate at this stage’.

This angered Southwark-based ReForm Architects, which, in 2015 – before Arcadis was brought in by TfL – registered a bascule-style bridge as part of its own self-funded proposals for a crossing, in broadly the same location.

re form rotherhithe bridge

re form rotherhithe bridge

At one point ReForm managing director Nik Randall said he was considering legal advice over the way TfL ran the design services contest that eventually saw Atkins appointed.

A TfL document produced for this design role bid process pointed out that ‘feasibility work suggests it will either be a swing or lifting bridge’ and added that the ambition was ‘to improve upon and refine the […] design from the feasibility study’.

Randall said earlier this year: ‘It is unbelievable that they can have this in bidding documents and then claim they are open to the best ideas.’

TfL has previously insisted that feasibility work did not advantage anyone in bidding for the next stage of design work because the appointment would be based on the capabilities of the team, rather than an evaluation of a design.

A spokesperson for the client body said last month: ‘Within Arcadis’s Bridge Options report, it clearly states that future design stages need not be restricted exclusively to its conclusions […] accordingly, the ReForm option of a bascule bridge has neither been included nor precluded as part of this process.’


Readers' comments (2)

  • This is what happens when you trash people for having ideas, which is what happened with the Garden Bridge and its miserabilist critics.

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  • Mr Finch's reading of the cause of the demise of the 'garden bridge' project is very, very selective - surely nobody wants to stifle creativity and good ideas?
    But when they're entangled with all the dubious machinations of some of the garden bridge promoters and beneficiaries - whose interests were seemingly more to do with personal than public benefit - Mr Finch is being both offensive and naive to term critics 'miserabilist'.
    And TfL is surely an organisation akin to a stately pile where traces of dry rot were discovered and only a fool would ignore the need to guard against further outbreaks.

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