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Top criminal QC raises ‘serious concerns’ over Garden Bridge contest

Garden bridge underbridge viewp
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TfL boss Mike Brown comes under fire as leading lawyer becomes the latest expert to criticise its Garden Bridge procurement

Transport for London’s procurement of the Garden Bridge raises ‘significant concerns’, according to a QC who has examined the AJ’s long-running investigation.

Ahead of an official report into the £185 million project’s procurement by MP Margaret Hodge, Tom Allen QC, a barrister specialising in criminal law at 5 Paper Buildings, has become the latest in a string of experts and organisations to criticise the 2013 contest, which saw Heatherwick Studio selected for the bridge against rival bidders Marks Barfield and WilkinsonEyre.

Allen said: ‘On its face, the procurement process in respect of the Garden Bridge appears to have been, at the least, an unfortunate one.

‘I don’t want to second guess the outcome of Margaret Hodge’s Review, but from what I have seen so far the apparent desire for the procurement route to lead to one conclusion raises serious concerns.’

However, TfL commissioner Mike Brown continues to robustly defend the procurement, rejecting calls for Marks Barfield and WilkinsonEyre to be compensated and calling the 2013 competition ‘appropriate and fair’.

Brown’s position is in contrast to those saying the contest was neither appropriate nor fair, including TfL’s head of internal audit Clive Walker, TfL’s external auditor Ernst & Young, TfL’s audit committee, RIBA president Jane Duncan and a leading procurement barrister who told the AJ last year that the competition was ‘legally defective throughout’.

Labour member of the London Assembly Tom Copley, who recently clashed with Brown over an alleged conflict-of-interest concerning the Garden Bridge and its engineer Arup, described the commissioner’s position on the procurement as ‘extraordinary’.

He said: ‘TfL’s own internal auditor and their external auditors found serious failings with the openness and transparency of the process.

Auditors found serious failings with the openness and transparency of the process

‘How can TfL learn the lessons for future procurement exercises if it won’t even admit that it made serious mistakes, and how can the public have confidence that these mistakes won’t be repeated?’

Lib Dem Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said: ‘The statement from Tom Allen QC reinforces once again my view that the procurement process for the Garden Bridge was from the outset fundamentally unfair in failing to follow some of the most basic procedures you would expect in any public sector tendering process.

‘The statement is also a clear reminder why Dame Margaret Hodge’s inquiry should not leave any stone unturned – and that must mean taking evidence from the companies that submitted tenders to TfL but lost out to Heatherwick Studios.

‘In the meantime the Mayor of London should back down from his foolish position of being willing to sign and enter into a permanent taxpayer-funded bailout for the Garden Bridge Trust before Dame Margaret Hodge’s investigation has even been published.’

Neither WilkinsonEyre nor Marks Barfield has ever publicly commented on the procurement but there have been calls from the London Assembly for the two firms to be financially compensated by TfL. The AJ understands that Hodge is intending to meet with both firms ahead of completing her report in the coming weeks.

TfL declined to comment. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Perhaps Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield should consider their position - they're both architects of high repute and do their profession no good by maintaining a 'stiff upper lip' and 'omerta' after being caught up in a grotesque charade of a procurement process.
    If these two architects really do believe that they'd risk damaging their professional futures by sticking up for honest procurement procedures then there's something very rotten at the core of the architectural profession in this country.

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  • It's not only these two great practices that have been affected. There is a strong case that if the previous mayor hadn't spent transport money on this tourist attraction and had spent it on other bridges that were in the London Plan and Tfl's River Crossing strategy then the Diamond Jubilee Bridge would already be complete and over 4 million journeys by foot and bike would have already been made between Battersea and Fulham.

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