Transport for London (TfL) is embroiled in another major bridge procurement row, this time over the proposed crossing from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf
ReForm Architects, which registered designs for the proposed Thames crossing, is seeking legal advice over the way TfL has run a contest for architectural services.
The Southwark-based practice has accused the public-sector client of failing to remove a potential conflict of interest and allowing its locally supported scheme to be disadvantaged.
The claim comes less than a year after the mayor Sadiq Khan, who chairs TfL, 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.
ReForm drew up its speculative bridge design (pictured) working with engineers Elliott Wood and Buro Happold. Now it has demanded the chance to put its proposal head-to-head with the scheme developed by the winner of TfL’s Rotherhithe competition in an independent assessment.
‘I find it extraordinary that there is a scheme supported by local people, yet the agency charged with delivering it is making it difficult,’ said ReForm managing director Nik Randall.
‘With the Garden Bridge, people were saying there was a possibility of a biased process for one design; this feels like there’s a possibility of a biased process against one design.’
‘We want the best option to be chosen but how can it be if they don’t compare our bridge with what they choose?’
The controversy centres on a technical scoping study, carried out by design consultancy Arcadis, which advised against the bascule-type bridge drawn up by ReForm.
There are also concerns about potential conflict of interest as TfL allowed Arcadis to subsequently bid for the design support contract.
It is understood that the deadline for bids for the design role has passed but a winner has not yet been chosen. It is not clear whether Arcadis submitted a bid or not.
A clause in the initial invitation to tender (ITT) for the technical scoping role, seen by AJ, stated: ‘Tenderers should be aware that … the winning tenderer will not be permitted to participate in any form … in any other competitive process for delivery of the main works as part of this project itself.’
It is understood the clause was dropped at some stage from contract documents but Randall said its existence at ITT stage ‘highlights that TfL recognised the potential for conflict of interest’. TfL insists the clause was not relevant to the current process of choosing consultants for the next phase of design development.
After assessing various types of bridge, including a bascule, Arcadis’s feasibility study concluded that either a lift or swing bridge were ‘most appropriate at this stage’.
The document was circulated to inform bids for the engineering and architectural services consultant role on the crossing, an opportunity seemingly put to all members of the multidisciplinary services lot of TfL’s professional services framework - which includes Arcadis - and their supply chain.
A TfL document as part of this 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: ‘It is unbelievable that they can have this in bidding documents and then claim they are open to the best ideas.
‘We talked to members of the framework; we were in contact with what we thought were the front runners and several expressed an interest but said they would need to see what TfL was asking for. Once details came out, they did not need us.
‘The [framework firms] are competent and can design a swing bridge from scratch, the advantage we had was having something ready to go so we would have been attractive if that could have been included.’
The process has, for whatever reason, precluded consideration of our design
Randall called for TfL to take steps to include ReForm’s designs in the overall selection process for the crossing.
‘It would not be a kick in the teeth if it was assessed and found to be unsafe or did not work,’ he said. ‘That’s design.
‘What is hard to take is not being in a position where it can be considered or assessed.
‘We started this project four and a half years ago without a client or a fee and we did it to benefit London, so we don’t want the project to stall but we have a lot of local support. We believe the process has, for whatever reason, precluded consideration of our design.
‘Our next step depends on what sense we get from TfL. We have taken legal advice and we know our position. But that’s not where we want to go. We want our bridge assessed independently [against the one drawn up by the winner of the TfL contest] and the chance to develop our design.
‘TfL could have our design on the table, and the chance for us to evolve it, and have their winning team’s design, and have them independently assessed. We would like to see that opportunity.’
Khan appeared to snub the ReForm designs last summer when he said: ‘TfL recognises that things move very quickly.
‘There is a design out there which is a number of years old now, so one of the reasons TfL is keen to have the procurement process is because there could be innovations around the world that could be lead to something quicker, cheaper and of higher quality.’
And he added: ‘TfL has appointed Arcadis to develop the designs and ensure the scheme is cost-effective – for example what type of bridge it will be.’
A TfL spokesperson said today: ’Any feasibility work carried out doesn’t advantage anyone in bidding for the next stage of design work because the appointment will be based on the capabilities of the team, rather than the evaluation of a design.
’We shared Arcadis’ initial report with all bidders simply in the interests of transparency. Our commercial team also provided ReForm with the details of the consultants on our framework as part of our current procurement for a multi-disciplinary team, so they could explore options to be part of a bidding team. It is for ReForm to pursue this, rather than for us to require such an arrangement.’
The spokesperson added: ’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 or precluded as part of this process.’
The scope document for the architectural services role currently being procured, said the commission included providing ’… architectural… services to produce a single option design for a Temporary Works Act Order application up to and including RIBA stage four’.
Meanwhile, a TfL consultation over factors such as which of three alignments were preferred for the crossing, and how high it should be, closed in January. A second consultation is expected this year to allow interested parties to comment on the detailed designs drawn up following this first view-seeking exercise.
A planning application could follow in 2019 and the mayor said last summer that he was looking for a start on site ‘as soon as possible’.
Ben Plowden, director of project and programme sponsorship for TfL surface transport said this week: ‘We are currently progressing a new crossing between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf, which will provide a much-needed walking and cycling connection between the two areas. The work we have carried out so far has suggested that a bridge could be the best option.
‘We recently undertook a public consultation seeking views on the best location and we hope to publish the results shortly. While a navigable bridge is TfL’s preference, no final decisions have yet been made, and Londoners were asked to comment on a number of design considerations as part of the consultation process.’
TfL’s procurement of the Garden Bridge has been the subject of a long-running AJ investigation which began in December 2014. The story hit the headlines again when the AJ revealed in December that Heatherwick Studio-founder Thomas was the sole founding member of the Garden Bridge Trust and personally head-hunted the organisation’s chair and deputy chair.
Arcadis has been contacted for comment.