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Watch Live: GLA committee to scrutinise Garden Bridge procurement

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The Greater London Authority (GLA) is to grill experts later today over whether Transport for London (TfL) ‘played fair’ when awarding the design contract for the Garden Bridge

At 2pm this afternoon (17 September) the authority’s Oversight Committee will scrutinise ‘the fairness of the process’ which saw Heatherwick Studios win the contract to build the 366m-long, £175million bridge over the Thames.

A Freedom of Information bid (FOI) by the Architects’ Journal earlier this year raised a number of questions about the procurement of the controversial project including scoring details (see attached) from the 2013 TfL contest between Wilkinson Eyre, Marks Barfield and Heatherwick Studio which were described as ‘extraordinary’ by architect Walter Menteth.

The former chairman of the RIBA procurement reform group is among those to be quizzed this afternoon, along with Richard De Cani, the director of Strategy and Policy at TfL and the AJ’s deputy editor Will Hurst.

Questions are expected to include:

  • Did TfL’s tender documentation give bidders enough information to provide robust and comparable bids?
  • Did TfL consider clarifying and reissuing the specification to invite the three firms to submit revised bids?
  • How did Heatherwick Studios score more highly than the other bidders despite having less experience in bridge design and construction?

Watch the GLA Oversight Committee meeting live here

Yesterday Transport for London (TfL) attempted to shrug off criticism of its procurement the bridge after an internal review of its own processesfound ‘no evidence’ its selection of designer Thomas Heatherwick did not provide value for money.

The internal audit ‘identified no issues’ regarding its February 2013 invited design contest between Heatherwick Studio, Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield in terms of the selection of bidders, the development of the tender and other aspects of the competition.

However, it claimed that TfL had lost or destroyed key documentation, including information to support the commercial analysis of the designers’ bids and the technical evaluation of the Arup bid and those of its competitors.

It also said criticised various aspects of TfL’s handling of the procurement, saying it had no proper strategy in place and that its role in the Garden Bridge was ‘unclear from the outset’.

Previous story (AJ 06.03.15)

Critics accuse TfL of ‘pre-judging’ 2013 Garden Bridge contest

Heatherwick outscored Wilkinson Eyre on bridge design experience, FOI response reveals

The bridge contest which saw Thomas Heatherwick appointed for the Garden Bridge was ‘pre-judged’, critics have claimed, after it emerged that his firm was given higher marks for design experience than two of the UK’s most experienced bridge architects.

Heatherwick Studio went up against Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield in early 2013 after Transport for London issued an invitation to tender for a Thames footbridge designer.

However, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by AJ has now revealed that Heatherwick was given a score of 4/5 for ‘relevant design experience’ while the other two firms received just 3/5 in the category, which was worth 25 per cent of the overall evaluation (see document right, attached).

Heatherwick has previously completed just one bridge – the controversial ‘Rolling Bridge’ at Paddington Basin while Wilkinson Eyre has designed more than 25 bridges including the Stirling Prize winning Gateshead Millennium bridge.

Millennium Bridge Newcastle

London Eye designer Marks Barfield has also designed a large number of successful bridge projects.

Last month, a previous FOI request by AJ revealed a handwritten May 2012 letter from Garden Bridge backer Joanna Lumley to Mayor of London Boris Johnson in which pitched the idea and suggested a meeting with herself and Heatherwick to discuss it.

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.

Walter Menteth, an architect and former chairman of the RIBA procurement reform group, described TfL’s scoring for the contest as ‘extraordinary’.

He said: ‘The scoring does not make any sense. The fact that Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre scored considerably lower than Heatherwick for design experience in a bridge competition raises serious questions about the process.

‘Heatherwick’s bid does not appear to respond to the brief and all the indications are that it was pre-judged on the basis of approaches made prior to the tender. Indeed, the solution of the Garden Bridge had already been aired directly to mayor Boris Johnson by Joanna Lumley in her letter of May 2012.’

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the London Assembly, Caroline Pigeon said:‘The more that is revealed about how the contract for the Garden Bridge was awarded by TfL the more questions start to arise. It certainly seems hard to justify how, for example, Heatherwick was awarded the highest marks for its design experience when its rivals had so much more experience in designing bridges. Now that this information is out in the open I hope a full explanation can be given by TfL to counter the legitimate claims that the awarding of the contract was far from even handed.

Pidgeon added that she was concerned by a 2013 BBC interview with Lumley in which Lumley was asked how she has got support from the mayor for the Garden Bridge and replied: ‘I’ve known Boris since he was four so he’s largely quite amenable.’

Pidgeon said: ‘Public sector contracts should always be won a fair, competitive basis and never on the basis of who knows who. The waters around the Garden Bridge project just get muddier and muddier.’

Labour London Assembly member John Biggs said he too was ‘very concerned’ by the scoring process.

He said: ‘It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Boris Johnson has always favoured Joanne Lumley’s Garden Bridge project.

‘Let’s not forget, this is a project that’s set to eat away at least £60m in taxpayer investment. The Mayor and all interested parties have an unavoidable duty to act transparently and fairly and we’ll be looking very closely to identify whether the correct procedures were followed.’

In TfL’s scoring, Heatherwick is also given higher marks than the other two firms for ‘understanding the brief’ and receives an overall score of 72.5% compared to Marks Barfield’s 65 per cent and Wilkinson Eyre’s 62.5 per cent.

The FOI reply redacted Heatherwick’s winning fee bid but revealed that one of the architects had put in a bid of around £50,000 while the other a bid of approximately £15,000. Nevertheless, all three competitors were awarded a score of 3/5 for cost or ‘daily rates’.

A spokesman for TfL said it was satisfied that a ‘robust and proper process’ had taken place.

He said: ‘An initial tender was issued in January 2013 to select a designer to develop the concept for a new bridge across the Thames in central London.  This was issued to three designers/architects as the time there was no approved TfL architectural framework in place, with the contract awarded to Heatherwick Studio in February 2013.’

Heatherwick Studio, Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre all declined to comment.

Thomas Heatherwick's Rolling Bridge at Paddington basin

Thomas Heatherwick’s Rolling Bridge at Paddington basin

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Can the Garden project stop using their ridiculous 'artist's impression' of the bridge. The Thame never looks like this (Turner for one knew better). It is a tidal rive river in constant flow - pushing, pulling, restless and dangerous. We are not in Disneyworld. If they have to use such soppy and deceitful images their s obviously something wrong with the project (besides obscuring one the best views of the city and St Paul's, from a bus going over Waterloo Bridge...)

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