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Politician ‘extremely worried’ over Knight’s Rotherhithe bridge role

Rotherhithe bridge

A key politician has branded Knight Architects’ design support role on the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing as ‘extremely worrying’

London Assembly transport committee deputy chair Caroline Pidgeon wrote to Transport for London raising fresh concerns over the procurement process for engineering and architectural support on the proposed scheme.

High Wycombe-based practice Knight – appointed by consultancy Atkins to assist in this latest role – was previously appointed by another consultancy, Arcadis, on a technical scoping study for the same project.

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 conclusion has proved controversial, as Southwark-based ReForm Architects registered a bascule-style bridge in 2015 as part of its own self-funded proposals for a Rotherhithe crossing.

Pidgeon wrote of Knight’s most recent appointment on the crossing: ‘This is extremely worrying as it appears that [a] firm recommending against bascule designs, with its potentially prejudicial implications for at least one company, is now directly benefiting from that conclusion.’

In her letter addressed to TfL general counsel Howard Carter, Pidgeon added: ‘Given the public support for the crossing, and given that a design is in the public domain, I believe TfL should consider independently assessing the existing design as part of the next steps to ensure transparency and to ensure public confidence in this matter.

TfL should consider independently assessing the existing design to ensure public confidence

‘I was advised last year that TfL was setting up a design review panel specifically for this project and suggest that if impartial and independent to the design teams, [this] is the suitable mechanism to fairly and transparently evaluate both design proposals.’

ReForm managing director Nik Randall had previously warned he was considering legal action over the procurement process for the design support role. This week he called for Sadiq Khan to get involved with the scheme.

‘Caroline Pidgeon has raised some very serious issues, and we agree that public confidence in the outcome will only be possible if our design is independently assessed alongside any that will be proposed by Knight and Atkins,’ he said.

‘We hope the mayor … will listen to Caroline Pidgeon’s concerns and step in to address them.’

Khan, who chairs TfL, last year pulled the plug on the ill-fated Garden Bridge, which had faced years’ of criticism over its procurement of designer Heatherwick Studio and engineering designer Arup.

A TfL document produced for the Rotherhithe 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 said it would respond to Pidgeon’s latest letter in due course, but Knight Architects and Atkins declined to comment.

In a reply to a previous letter from Pidgeon, Carter conceded earlier this month that TfL did consider banning Arcadis from the contest to provide design support on the Rotherhithe crossing.

‘We considered whether Arcadis should be excluded from being able to bid for that work,’ he wrote. But he said making sure all bidders had access to Arcadis’s feasibility report was considered ‘sufficient to ensure they were all treated equally’. 

Carter’s letter added that TfL remained open-minded about the best solution for the crossing. ‘All options (bascule, swing and vertical lift bridges) remain open for consideration,’ he wrote.

A TfL spokesperson said last week: ‘Following a competitive procurement process from our multidisciplinary services framework, we appointed Atkins to provide engineering and design support, which will inform the next stages of procurement, as well as the Transport and Works Act Order application for a new proposed crossing between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf. As part of this work, Atkins has appointed Knight Architects as a subcontractor.

’While a navigable bridge is TfL’s provisional preference, no final decisions have been made on the crossing type or any specific aspects of design or location.’

I can’t see a non-refutable, fully defendable case for an openable bridge

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.’

Meanwhile, Studio Bednarski founder Cezary Bednarski has resigned from the design review panel set up by TfL for the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing. He is understood to be disillusioned with the way the crossing is headed.

‘I cannot see that a non-refutable, fully defendable case has been made for an openable bridge, both in terms of capital and operational costs, as well as functionality,’ he said. ‘As this idea seems too close for comfort to the misguided Garden Bridge project I decided to leave the panel.’

A TfL spokesman thanked Bednarski for his contribution on the design review panel. 


Readers' comments (3)

  • Can anyone explain what 'most appropriate at this stage' means, unless the producer of this paid-for expert advice thinks that it might become inappropriate at a later stage? After it's built, perhaps, or unbuilt, but absorbed a great deal of public money?

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  • There is a nasty smell about all this because the procurement bean counters are launching an attack on the independent creativity and social commitment of the ReForm team which invented the project. Bad news for London.

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  • Perhaps more concerning is that the Arcadis/Knight study effectively ruled out the option of an enhanced ferry service without first consulting Thames Clippers who run the existing Rotherhithe ferry. Had they consulted Thames Clippers (or any other ferry expert) they would have learnt that an enhanced ferry service would be very much cheaper than a bridge, could run at 3 min intervals and have a comparable crossing time. It could also use zero emission vessels and be delivered by early 2021.

    Sadiq Khan (rightly) insisted on applying a value for money test to the Garden Bridge; he should apply the same test to the Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf crossing.

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