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How can we prevent another Thames bridge procurement mess?

Paul Finch

Paul Finch questions whether design competitions are always appropriate for new London crossings

Rhb 02

Rhb 02

Tricky decisions will soon need to be taken in respect of new Thames bridge proposals, being pursued vigorously, despite the concerted attacks on the Garden Bridge, attacks that I still hope may prove unsuccessful.

The problem for Transport for London and the London mayor is that they have put themselves in a position where the most important thing is running a design competition where public money, even if a minority share of funding, is involved.

In fact, as Margaret Hodge pointed out in her Garden Bridge report: ‘The mayor and TfL could have worked with Heatherwick Studio without a competitive procurement process but chose not to do so.’ This may have come as a surprise to procurement fetishists; if there been no competition there would, however, have been big squawks, which is presumably why the safety-first route was chosen, with unhappy results.

There are three other proposed bridges, all for cyclists and pedestrians, which have already been designed. The Diamond Jubilee bridge linking Wandsworth to Fulham has already won approvals, and simply requires private sector funding. Then there is the bridge design – which won a TfL competition – linking Nine Elms to Pimlico, where hostility from Westminster Council and local residents has cast a shadow over proceedings, temporarily one hopes.

More complex, but arguably of greater benefit, is the proposal by Nik Randall/reForm Architects, linking Rotherhithe Park to Canary Wharf. This would be a case study in line with Terry Farrell’s observation that what London really needs is several new crossings east of Tower Bridge.

Randall’s inspiration for the idea and location (which has won mayoral and TfL support in principle), came about as a result of talking to a friend who worked in Canary Wharf and cycled from East Dulwich to work every day. ‘I realised he cycled to Greenwich, carried his bike down into the tunnel, pushed it through and up the other side. I asked why he went so far off-route and he said the alternative was to cross Tower Bridge.’

Should the originator of a productive idea, pursued at the designer’s expense, be ignored in favour of an open competition?

Having identified an optimum location for a crossing to ease such journeys, Randall produced a concept design for an opening bridge, with engineer Gary Elliott of Elliott Wood. The architects then carried out a study into the technical and practical parameters for a crossing, partly paid for by Sustrans, the cycling network promoters. This is the only money the architects received for anything related to the project, says Randall; it was specifically not for the design or its development.  

Subsequently, Sustrans has promoted the need for the crossing at this location, while reForm and Elliott Wood have promoted the design at endless public meetings and consultation exercises.

Now it has the backing of everyone who matters, including the Port of London Authority, which has approved the design and geometry and is now seeking a ‘simulator trial’, apparently sought when there is confidence that it will be successful. 

Taking and passing the trial would hugely de-risk this specific design over any as yet unknown proposal, thereby reducing both cost and construction period. The question, therefore, is whether you think that the originator of a productive idea, pursued at the designer’s expense, should be ignored in favour of an open competition which would be based on the designer’s ideas but where key criteria could include fee bids, for example.

Alternatively you could make Randall’s the reference design for a construction bid. Best, you could invoke EU procurement rules outlining when you may make a direct design appointment. I hope the mayor and TfL opt for the latter, and reward initiative, creativity and commitment, proving despite appearances that London truly supports architecture, design and engineering. 

This column was published in the Workplace issue – click here to buy a copy


Readers' comments (2)

  • Talk of 'procurement fetishists' and a 'big squawk' is a bit rich, when what Boris & chums were at was an attempt to impose on us (and the riverscape) a rather private folly - intended primarily for the benefit of the sponsors & designers, their egos and their pockets - as an asset of great public value that warranted 'bungs' of rather a lot of public dosh both now and forever after.

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  • Thanks for the Diamond Jubilee Bridge mention. Difficult to sum up 6 years pro-bono work in one sentence but is close enough. Below is some additional info:

    Planning & Business Case Summary
    •1924, Viscount Curzon MP calls formally for a bridge for pedestrian access situated between Wandsworth Bridge and Battersea Bridge;
    •A bridge, adjacent to the Cremorne rail bridge, is called for in 2009 in the Transport Committee’s review into the delivery of improvements to the orbital rail network. Specifically, linking Battersea to the Overground network at Imperial wharf (rather than a new station in Battersea);
    •The first Business case was produced by consultants appointed by the two borough councils in 2003; it was then updated in 2012 and the proposal was shown to have Benefit/Cost Ratio of 2.0:1, representing high value for money. The site is selected and established by both councils in these documents;
    •The bridge is adopted policy in both Hammersmith & Fulham and Wandsworth;
    •The bridge is part of the London Plan and is specifically called for in the Thames Strategy Policy Recommendation M7;
    •Hammersmith and Fulham’s South Fulham Riverside SPD calls for the delivery of the bridge;
    •Wandsworth councils Riverside SPD calls for the bridge and makes provision for funding contributions through CIL payments;
    •The Bridge is included in TfL’s ‘Connecting the Capital’ plan of December 2015;
    •The GLA have agreed a cross party motion of support for the bridge;
    •The bridge has planning consent and pre‐commencement condition 13 has been discharged (pile design);
    •TfL has completed their November 2016 cost analysis and business case, confirming the value for money and need for the bridge. It does qualify for TfL Funding, is in their plan, but the Mayors attention is Eastward.

    Construction & Cost Summary
    •Piles are already in the ground in Battersea (procured through a S106 agreement with housing developer Barratt London);
    •Once funded the bridge can be delivered within 18 months (N.B. This is seasonally dependent on river works to avoid fish spawning season);
    •It is envisaged that the next stage will be procured via an open Design and Build competitive tender process led by Wandsworth Council or other local authority of government agency;
    •The TfL cost plan shows the construction cost at £26m plus risk;
    •Wandsworth Council have around £10m assigned to the construction of the bridge in future CIL monies (development tax);
    •Wandsworth Council have agreed in principle to adopt the completed bridge in order to maintain it.
    •With the piles in Battersea complete and a certificate of Lawfulness issued the Bridge has started on site
    •Wandsworth Council are undertaking further work inc. boreholes, UXO surveys, Multibeam side scan surveys etc. to clear as far as possible the risk list.

    Environmental Summary (as ascertained by Wandsworth’s independent report)
    •This true infrastructure project will have over 1.5 million users per annum, furthermore, it will;
    •help air quality by shifting modes of transport from cars and busses;
    •ease congestion on local busses;
    •reduce overcrowding at Clapham Junction;
    •encourage more walking / cycling on local / commuter / business journeys;
    •save time on local and commuter journeys;
    •improve connectivity between existing public transport nodes by bus, rail and river.

    But that all aside, yes, it would happen a lot more quickly if a corporate sponsor came forward to assist with funding.

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