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Politicians to probe Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge appointment


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.

Politicians to probe Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge appointment


Readers' comments (5)

  • Its not just a matter of value for money but surely design quality that an international competition would address.

    A well run international design competition would allow a range of ideas and possible forms to be tables and a rational decision made.

    It looks like Boris has simply called up his mates and asked them to get on with it.

    This is a very very large mass to place in a delicate location and I don't think anyone has really absorbed the true scale of this object. Look carefully at the context - it is utterly dwarfed.

    Please - let's open this up to a fair competitive process and be provided with the right design - chosen by an expert panel of Londoners - not just Boris's favoured designer of the moment.

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  • This whole project is questionable and would actually obscure the view of St. Paul's and damage important views of the City.
    It has been condemned as an expensive, unnecessary vanity folly, and should now be abandoned in favour of really vital infrastructure development, esp. social housing that is desperately needed for a fairer London.
    The whole concept of a bridge with trees and planting over a bridge on the river destroys London's urban quality, and its use and maintenance a huge problem.
    Get rid of it!

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  • Something seems profoundly wrong here if this has been commissioned without public engagement or even a proper transparent public call?. As pointed out by Martin Knight AJ article 29 Oct the cost at £175m ‘is around 7 times that of the Millennium Bridge and, much better value might be gained in supporting multiple upgraded and new river crossings in a variety of locations, including the footbridge proposed between Pimlico and Nine Elms (by TfL estimate £40 m).’

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  • This project is aslap in the face to austerity stricken families the length and breadth of London. That celebrities and politicians can go off on flights of fancy and see them realised, when a lot of bright people, including many within our own industry cannot afford to live within 20 miles of the place is a real scandal.

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  • I have actually registered on this site, with the sole reason being to comment on the farcical regime that is OJEU related tendering.

    The whole process is systemically flawed and results in rising construction related costs.

    We are a subcontractor in North East of England and have, on repeated occasions been the most cost effective tenderer for a particular scheme, only to be informed we have not won the tender based on our quality assessment.

    Whilst i realise these quality assessments have a purpose, we are a recognized and respected contractor in our field. We have successfully completed several similar size schemes for similar clients. We have been denied contracts on the basis of a scoring system which forms part of a tender situation which is SUPPOSED to eliminate corruption (yes corruption, I said it), but serves only to systematically allow it.

    Pricing documents are issued in double dutch, with conflicting specifications from one document to next next, which can be interpreted in which ever way is more favourable for the preferred successful candidate.

    The whole OJEU tendering process, complete with inflexibility and a culture of backward thinking 'none speaking' to each section of the supply chain is completely flawed to the point of being criminal, and the only reason is it allowed to continue is because of the amount of people which it continues to employ.

    It is a disgrace and has an inherent 'council' jobs for the boys' feel about it. The kind of attitude its sole purpose in existence was created to eradicate. EPIC fail.

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