Jane Duncan calls for review of procurement process amid claims Thomas Heatherwick design was chosen unfairly.
The project to build a Garden Bridge over the river Thames in London should be halted following claims that the winner of the contest to design the bridge was selected unfairly, the head of the Royal Institute of British Architects has said.
Jane Duncan, the president of the RIBA, said she was extremely concerned about the allegations and that the procurement process should be stopped and scrutinised before more public money was put at risk.
Questions have been raised over how Thomas Heatherwick was selected for the £175m project and the fairness of the procurement process, after it was revealed he and the London mayor, Boris Johnson, promoted the garden bridge in San Francisco before the official 2013 Transport for London (TfL) contest.
“The allegations relating to the procurement of the Garden Bridge are extremely concerning. All those who bid for work have a right to expect their submissions will be judged fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law,” Duncan told the Architects’ Journal.
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“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.”
Johnson met Heatherwick two weeks before TfL invited Heatherwick Studio to tender for the project. It ended up beating Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre.
Heatherwick’s submission, released after a freedom of information request, was an elaboration of his original design. Joanna Lumley, the most high-profile cheerleader of the project, is an associate of Heatherwick’s studio.
The meeting with Heatherwick was omitted from the mayor’s official report to the London assembly, despite the inclusion of his main activities being a statutory requirement.
The trip to San Francisco with Heatherwick was also omitted from the monthly report. In December, Johnson called the allegations about the competition “a load of cobblers”.
Duncan said she was not casting aspersions on the standard of the designs by Heatherwick.
“This is by no means a comment on the work of the immensely talented Heatherwick Studio and Arup teams,” she said. “Our concerns are about the fairness and transparency of the procurement process.”
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.”
The Garden Bridge Trust, which is handling the project but was set up after the procurement process was concluded, refused to comment on Duncan’s interview.
Len Duvall, the leader of the Labour group on the London assembly, said Duncan’s comments showed concerns over the procurement process had spread beyond politics.
“The RIBA is not only a deeply respected and non-partisan trade body it is also the voice of the architecture industry,” he said. “It’s clear they now feel the questions hanging over the procurement process for the Garden Bridge are so great that they need to speak out and call for this project to be shelved.”
Duvall said Johnson’s actions had been cavalier. “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,” he said.
Last month it was revealed by parliament’s spending watchdog that the chancellor, George Osborne, had offered Johnson funding for the bridge without oversight from the Department for Transport.
The National Audit Office said the £60m of public money being spent on the bridge was at greater risk than the private funds, and a “high degree of uncertainty” hung over the scheme’s value for money.
This feature originally appeared in The Guardian.