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Revealed: TFL manager challenged Garden Bridge scoring

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EXCLUSIVE: ’All three cannot have scored 15%’ commercial manager wrote in 2013 internal email revealed to the AJ under FOI

A senior manager within Transport for London’s (TFL’s) commercial department unsuccessfully challenged the organisation’s scoring of Thomas Heatherwick’s winning Garden Bridge bid, emails released under Freedom of Information (FOI) have revealed.

In the email chain dated from the 5 to 8 March 2013 uncovered by the Architects’ Journal (see file attached), Paul Plummer questioned the proposed appointment of Heatherwick Studio and asked how it and competitors Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre could all have received equal marks for the commercial criteria given the differing day rates the three firms submitted.

The scoring, carried out by TfL’s then director of strategy and policy Richard De Cani alone, has been at the centre of the Garden Bridge procurement row since an earlier FOI request made by the AJ last March sparked claims that the design competition was ‘pre-judged’ due to apparently irregular scoring.

In the email chain, De Cani wrote to the commercial department on 5 March with comments and the assessment sheet, adding: ‘Based on this assessment, we would like to appoint Heatherwick, interview not required at this stage.’

Plummer responded on 8 March to say he was ‘not comfortable’ with the decision.

He wrote: ‘How was the commercial criteria scores reached given the range of daily rates submitted? All three cannot have scored 15 per cent. I don’t agree with the summary comments that I have seen suggesting rates are consistent across all three bidders. One of the submissions quotes hourly (not daily rates)…

‘I appreciate that there is a requirement to move this forward, but I am not comfortable that we have proceed [sic] at the moment given the issues highlighted above.’

Plummer also raised fears about ‘scope creep’ on the project and questioned a bid by Heatherwick Studio to retain intellectual property (IP) rights over the design of the Garden Bridge.

In his response to Plummer, De Cani wrote: ‘Let’s just be very clear here about where we are…in terms of the best people to do the job – it is Heatherwick. This is who we want to appoint because of their expertise and approach to the project.’

De Cani did not answer Plummer’s question on why scoring in this category was identical given differing day rates but confirmed TfL was appointing ‘on the basis of day rates’ rather than fixed sums.

He concluded: ‘In terms of next steps I have already notified Heatherwick that it is our intention to appoint them, subject to agreeing the contract and we need to quickly progress to the next stage of formalising letters etc. This work needs to commence next week. Can we please aim to have the letters formalised today?’

Later the same day, De Cani emailed again to say he had been in touch with Heatherwick Studio because ’we need to move this on and get the contracts sorted.’

He added that the firm had agreed to drop its IP demand ’in place of some commitments around credits’.

Later emails in the chain from TfL’s commercial head David Young and head of commercial law, Justine Curry, do not address Plummer’s question about the scoring but appear to back De Cani’s general approach on day rates and IP.

TfL’s director of strategy and policy Richard De Cani at oversight committee - 17 September

TfL’s director of strategy and policy Richard De Cani at oversight committee - 17 September

TfL’s director of strategy and policy Richard De Cani at oversight committee - 17 September

Critics said the emails were further proof that those within TFL questioning the fairness of the process at the time were ignored or brushed aside.

In January 2013, TfL’s own legal department cautioned that a ‘level playing field’ was needed in the contest given that Heatherwick had ’already raised’ his proposals for a Garden Bridge between Temple and South Bank. Despite this advice, no mention of a garden element was made in the brief sent to the three firms involved in the competition.

MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey, who recently called on the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee to launch their own investigations into the £175million bridge, said the emails raised further questions about the ‘entire procurement process’.

‘This shows that this was not a fair competition by any standards and the National Audit office now must step up its enquiries,’ she said. ’In the meantime Lambeth Council should not proceed with the proposed land transfer.’

Len Duvall, chairman of the London Assembly’s oversight committee, which has been investigating the procurement of the bridge for several months ,said: ’It’s clear that even inside TfL a significant number of people had concerns about the way the procurement process for the Garden Bridge was carried out.

’Problems seem to have been batted away and the throttle increased’

’You’d imagine that both the commercial and legal teams raising concerns would prompt a rethink but instead problems seem to have been batted away and the throttle increased.

‘I’ve no idea how TfL can justify awarding the same cost score to bids charging different rates, clearly if one is cheaper they should score higher on that criteria. What is clear from this exchange is that there was a clear presumption in favour of Heatherwick studios and that the procurement process appears little more than a formality to be overcome.’

A TfL spokesperson said: ‘The email exchange on the scoring of the design contract clearly shows that TfL’s head of commercial law and the head of commercial services agreed that the right process was being followed, including that fixed prices should be disregarded as they were not requested as part of the tender. Any suggestion that this was not the case or that advice was ignored is completely untrue.

‘As has been discussed at length at the GLA oversight committee, the original legal advice regarding carrying out a procurement through the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) was based on the premise that we would be fully designing and building the bridge.

’The project is not being delivered in that way and is now the responsibility of the Garden Bridge Trust.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Surely, history shows that in any large organisation where questionable behaviour is being exercised from the top down, there'll be plenty of people who are uncomfortable about what's going on - but who have to think hard about their own careers and livelihoods before they protest, before they 'poke their heads above the parapet'.
    This sort of creeping dilution of integrity can spread through an organisation like dry rot through a building, and become increasingly difficult to eradicate. If the Mayor of London succeeds in getting his way with this project he will have damaged TfL - and if he succeeds in his political ambitions he'll be damaging all of us.

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