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RIBA calls for Garden Bridge to be halted


President Jane Duncan intervenes in the ongoing row citing ‘extreme’ concerns about £175m scheme’s procurement

London’s £175million Garden Bridge project should be put on hold to allow a full investigation of its procurement to be carried out, RIBA president Jane Duncan has said.

Duncan said she was ‘extremely concerned’ about the fairness and transparency of the procurement following to the AJ’s long-running investigation and new revelations that designer Thomas Heatherwick and London mayor Boris Johnson promoted the Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge plan in San Francisco before the official 2013 TfL contest.

TfL judged Heatherwick Studio the winner against architect competitors Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre in March 2013 - but observers questioned the result because of prior lobbying of the mayor and because of apparently irregular scoring of the bids uncovered by AJ under Freedom of Information.

Duncan told AJ: ‘The allegations relating to the procurement of the Garden Bridge are extremely concerning. All those who bid for work have a right to expect that their submissions will be judged fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law.

‘Given the high-profile nature of this project, the amount of public money at stake and the seriousness of the allegations, we would urge that the project is put on hold and the whole procurement process is then opened up to detailed scrutiny.

Our concerns are about the fairness and transparency of the procurement process

‘This is by no means a comment on the work of the immensely talented Heatherwick Studio and Arup teams. Our concerns are about the fairness and transparency of the procurement process.’

Neither London Eye designer Marks Barfield nor double Stirling prize-winning Wilkinson Eyre have ever commented on the row but both are RIBA chartered members. Thomas Heatherwick – a non-architect – is an RIBA honorary fellow.

Leader of the London Assembly Labour group Len Duvall claimed Duncan’s intervention showed how the mayor’s actions were now bringing TfL ‘into disrepute’.

‘RIBA is not only a deeply respected and non-partisan trade body it is also the voice of the architecture industry,’ he said. ‘This intervention shows that concerns about the procurement process for the Garden Bridge have spread far beyond the political world.

‘Johnson needs to accept that his cavalier actions, and failure to order a full and open investigation into how the Garden Bridge contract was decided, are now bringing the Transport for London into disrepute. This goes far beyond the Bridge, this scandal risks damaging TfL’s reputation and undermining trust in their ability to run fair and transparent procurements in the future.’

Heatherwick Studio and the Garden Bridge Trust both declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: ’An audit of Transport for London’s procurement process has already found that it was open, fair and transparent; and the Mayor does not intend to halt a project that will be a spectacular new addition to London. Work on building the bridge is due to begin this year and is widely supported by Londoners and businesses on both sides of the river.’


Readers' comments (7)

  • I would hope that the mayoral candidates at next weeks RIBA hustings will be invited to support Jane Duncans stand, put the project on hold and commit to a full and independent enquiry into the garden Bridge.
    In a democracy public procurement must be fair, transparent and legal. Boris Johnson’s journey to California in an endeavour to raise funds specifically for the Garden Bridge design before it was put out to public tender is further evidence of the serious impropriety that has now come to light.

    This is what the subsequent Invitation to Tender (Specification Purpose of the brief) stated was required:
    "This initial study will help examine the potential for a footbridge in this area, considering a number of different locations and taking into account a range of constraints in the area. The appointed designer would work with TfL to identify and test broad options and to help identify a potential preferred option that could be considered further"

    No mention in the ITT of any requirement for a specific design solution let alone a Garden. The tender response submitted by Heatherwick's included the design of the Garden Bridge & received the highest mark in this question category. The 2 others responded to the question. There was no ‘a prior’ scoping of a Garden Bridge in this location nor any defined need in the London plan. Heatherwick bid included Joanna Lumley as a design team member in their £172k bid; Marks Barfield £15k, Wilkinson Ayre £36.7k (incl. an engineer), and all received the same score.

    Today it has come to light that the two officers individually responsible for TfL’s Garden Bridge process [Isabel] Dedring who joined Johnson on his trip to California and Richard Di Cani have left TfL to join Arups, the engineers delivering it, and from whence Di Cani originally came. The cost of [the Garden Bridge to] the public - £60m, and not a truly affordable home in sight.

    So far every aspect of this ‘Jobs for the boys’ project stinks. ref also: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/muddy-waters-jobs-boys-walter-menteth?trk=pulse_spock-articles

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  • Imagine, Thomas Heatherwick is only a 'honorary' architect, not a properly qualified designer. Only full members of the RIBA should be allowed to design bridges, obviously. Clearly, the Mayor of London should never be allowed to break euro rules and commission one of the finest designers in Britain. Does the President of the RIBA have any idea how parochial her complaints sound to those not members of the chosen profession?

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  • To put this in some perspective...it is a bridge with trees on it.
    You could achieve the same effect by simply leaving an existing bridge untouched for the next 25 years.
    Is it me or is this reminiscent of 'The Emperors New Clothes'?
    Build some sorely needed innovative housing if these over pampered, over-funded types need something to do.....

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  • If Peter Bill has been paying attention he will know that the Ramblers' Association, St Paul's Cathedral, the Metropolitan Gardens Association, the RSPB and the Taxpayers' Alliance - among others - have all expressed opposition to the proposed Garden Bridge. Does he really believe that these people are sulking because they didn't get to design it themselves?

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  • Its an extraordinary clumsy design.

    Peter Arnold RIBA
    Boulder, Colorado

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  • I was rolled in by the local people opposing the so called 'Garden Bridge' and am entirely on their side. This week I wrote to all mayoral candidates to tell them that if they support what, besides all other issues, is in my view a pointless and ungainly concoction, they will not have my vote as I cannot bring myself to vote for somebody who speaks in support of what is difficult to refer to other than corrupt practices.

    I was the winner in 13 international bridge competitions, I am a competition juror, and my practice is on the panel of the TFL architects. We have never heard of that apparent ‘competition’…

    Besides that, TH has not built a single bridge and referring to that curly thing in Paddington as a ‘bridge’ is stretching the meaning of what a bridge is beyond intellectual comfort. It is a mechanical toy. Then, pitching TH, and the issue of who he is professionally has no relevance here, against Wilkinson Eyre, UK’s most prolific and experienced bridge architects, points squarely to a suspicious process.

    Jane's intervention is in order, timely and important for us all as architects and designers.

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  • Does Peter Bill realise just how unprincipled (i.e. bent) his stance is?
    Is this what we might expect in the event that Boris Johnson achieves his apparent aim of running the country?

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