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Fresh Garden Bridge concerns centre on tender process

"Back to front" process used to secure Heatherwick Studio's appointment, says critic...

London’s proposed Garden Bridge linking the South Bank to Temple has come under fresh criticism, much of it centred on the tender process that saw Thomas Heatherwick appointed designer for the £175 million project, with one critic saying the procedure was "back to front."

According to The Observer, the actress Joanna Lumley, who has championed the project, wrote to Mayor of London Boris Johnson – whom she says she has known since he was four years of age – in 2012 to urge him to back the plans.

Ms Lumley, who in her 2004 autobiography described the designer’s work as “of incomparable originality” congratulated Johnson on his re-election, and said: “Heatherwick and I would very much like to meet you in the near future to talk most earnestly about the idea of a bridge.”

Critics of the bridge claim that the subsequent invitation in 2013 from Transport for London (TfL) to Heatherwick Studio to be one of three firms to submit designs – the winning one, it transpired – circumvented usual procedures, with Michael Ball from the  Waterloo Community Development Group describing it as “back to front.”

He added that it appeared to be a “retro-fit process to give apparent legitimacy” to the appointment of Mr Heatherwick’s firm, an allegation strongly denied by the parties concerned.

According to the Observer, when TfL decided to go ahead with the plans for a bridge over the Thames, normally it would invite tenders from a preferred list of designers for architecture and bridges, which Heatherwick Studio, which had previously designed just one bridge, did not appear on.

The other two firms invited to submit plans – Marks Barfield Architects and Wilkinson Eyre – do have a strong pedigree in designing bridges, but the newspaper says that according to internal TfL documents, Heatherwick Studio scored higher on “relevant design experience.”

Among further concerns is that TfL’s invitation to tender did not contain a reference to a “garden bridge” – rather, it asked for “design advice to help progress ideas for a new footbridge crossing of the river Thames.”

That has led Mr Ball to note: “There’s no mention of a garden, or indeed a garden bridge, so Heatherwick wasn’t being procured to design a garden bridge. How on Earth did this slide to become the main gig?”

The bridge has also come under criticism for a number of other reasons including the fact bicycles will be banned, closure at certain hours and for corporate events, blocking iconic views, potentially dangerous overcrowding on the South Bank and the fact that – contrary to what was originally promised – it will be part-financed with public money should it go ahead.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has pledged £30 million towards it, with TfL – which Mr Johnson chairs – promising the same amount, even though when talking about the project last year, Johnson said he didn’t understand “quite what the point of is.”

TfL says that it is not necessary to review the tender process since it is “satisfied a robust and proper process was followed to award this contract.”

However, the project faces a potential stumbling block in the form of a judicial review, brought by Mr Ball, which will focus on matters including how its construction and ongoing maintenance costs – the latter estimated at £3.5 million a year – will be financed.

In an editorial that makes clear its opposition to the project, The Observer says “the Garden Bridge Trust and its backers have been evasive and misleading.”

It also notes the variety of organisations and people opposed to the project, “some of whom might have been expected to support it: the RSPB, the Ramblers’ Association, the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, residents, St Paul’s, the lawyers of the Middle Temple, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Green party, several engineers and other construction professionals who regard its structure as wasteful.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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