Questions raised about ‘sketchy’ process that led to design studio landing Thames crossing commission – with £60 million of public funding
Politicians are to investigate the ‘sketchy’ process by which government body Transport for London (TfL) appointed Thomas Heatherwick to design the Garden Bridge.
The £175 million project – which now has planning permission from both Westminster and Lambeth councils – was originally billed as being 100 per cent private-sector funded, but now has £60 million of public funding from the mayor of London and the Treasury.
It has now emerged that TfL appointed Heatherwick Studio to produce concept designs for the bridge in February 2013, shortly after it had asked Heatherwick and two other architects – transport specialists Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield – to submit tenders as part of a non-OJEU invitation-to-tender document seen by the AJ.
‘Just because the Garden Bridge is the brainchild of a celebrity, there can be no justification for cutting corners in the process of selecting architects,’ Caroline Pidgeon, London Assembly LibDem Group Leader
Two months later TfL held a second tender – this time under OJEU – for technical design services. This was won by Arup, now lead consultant on the bridge.
But critics questioned why Heatherwick didn’t face a full OJEU process himself and pointed to the fact that both Heatherwick and Arup had previously been asked to work on the bridge by the scheme’s originator, actor and campaigner Joanna Lumley. They claim this casts doubt on whether fair and open competitions took place, and whether taxpayers have received value for money.
Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the London Assembly, said TfL’s tender appeared ‘flawed’, and vowed to question mayor Boris Johnson on the matter.
‘Just because the Garden Bridge is the brainchild of a celebrity, there can be no justification for cutting corners in the process of selecting architects,’ Pidgeon said.
‘Despite being a hugely significant project, backed up already by £60 million of taxpayer’s funding, it appears that the selection process may have been flawed.
‘A proper architectural competition – held fully in public – would have helped secure a far better deal for Londoners.’
Labour assembly member and chair of the audit committee John Biggs said his committee would also raise questions in response to the revelations.
He said: ‘We have now had a number of schemes in London, such as the cycle-hire scheme and the cable car, which are public/private hybrids … we shouldn’t have a lesser standard of scrutiny on these schemes.’
Peter Smith, a procurement expert and editor of the Spend Matters blog, called TfL’s invitation-to-tender document ‘sketchy’, and said it failed to ask specific questions of the three firms that would properly assess their suitability. He added that both Heatherwick and Arup appeared to have a clear advantage ahead of their bids.
A TfL spokesman said: ‘The value of this [concept designer] contract was under the OJEU threshold and therefore obtaining proposals from three nominated practices was an acceptable way forward.’
Heatherwick Studio, Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre all declined to comment.
In a separate development, Wandsworth Council has launched an international design competition for a new bridge across the Thames at Nine Elms in central London – just two miles from Heatherwick’s planned bridge.