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TfL in conflict of interest row over new Thames bridge

A joint venture vying for the contract to design a multi-million-pound bridge over the Thames have slammed Transport for London’s procurement of the deal, claiming a “conflict of interest”.

Elliott Wood and reForm Architects, whose JV came up with an initial design for the bridge in 2015, have questioned TfL’s decision to allow Arcadis to bid for the design deal despite having carried out a feasibility study last year.

The JV also claimed TfL went back on its initial plans to put the design contract out to open tender, instead opting to procure through one of its internal frameworks, leaving the reForm / Elliott Wood team unable to bid.

Elliott Wood and reForm teamed up more than four years ago to come up with a design for a new bridge crossing the Thames from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf.

In 2015, the JV carried out a feasibility study for the project and created a concept design for a bascule bridge.

In response to the TfL procurement, the JV said: “TfL are now tendering for a team to extend the Arcadis work, but crucially reForm / Elliott Wood are barred from bidding for this due to not being on the TfL multidisciplinary framework, and Arcadis’ recommendation not to pursue the bascule bridge.

“The Arcadis team responsible for the assessment is also crucially eligible for the ongoing work despite the conflict of interest in developing a brief that excludes their competitors from taking part.”

In October 2016, mayor of London Sadiq Khan revealed a pedestrian and cycling bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf would be one of three new river crossings to be built in London alongside the Silvertown Tunnel and a DLR crossing at Gallions Reach. 

According to reForm / Elliott Wood, following the mayor’s announcement TfL indicated it would be procuring the design contract through an open tender, with the JV teaming up with engineer BuroHappold to bid for the deal.

However, the JV was then made aware that TfL had changed its procurement route and would be limiting bidders to only those on its multidisciplinary framework.

TfL’s multidisciplinary framework partners are Aecom, Arcadis, Arup, Atkins, Jacobs, Mott MacDonald, Pell Frischmann, Ramboll UK and WSP.

Arcadis was eventually picked to carry out another feasibility study for the bridge last year, with the ITT for the contract, seen by CN, stating that Arcadis would be barred from bidding for the design deal.

As part of its feasibility study, Arcadis was asked to determine what type of bridge would be best for the scheme.

The firm opted for a vertical lift and horizontal swing bridge, ruling out a bascule bridge as proposed by reForm and Elliott Wood.

Elliott Wood associate director Toby Allen told CN the decision was against the initial agreements set out by TfL, and was an example of smaller firms not being able to be involved in the development of their own ideas.

Mr Allen said: “If TfL or any other government organisation wants to provide the public with the best infrastructure, they are going to have to find a better way to come up with a mechanism to accept these ideas.

“We came up with a bridge design, they said, ‘That’s a fantastic idea, it wouldn’t happen without you but our system means we have to go with our own contractors to develop the scheme’.”

TfL told CN that the Arcadis bridge options were used to inform a public consultation which closed last month, but no final decisions had yet been made on the best design solution.

It said Arcadis’ report had been distributed to all firms bidding for the deal and it was up to those bidders to decide the make-up of their teams, adding that it had provided the reForm team with details of the consultants on the framework so it could explore becoming part of their bidding teams.

TfL director of project and programme sponsorship for surface transport Ben Plowden said: “We recently undertook a public consultation seeking views on the best location and we hope to publish the results shortly.

“While a navigable bridge is TfL’s preference, no final decisions have yet been made, and Londoners were asked to comment on a number of design considerations as part of the consultation process.”

Last year a report by the Greater London Assembly into TfL’s procurement for the contract to design the Thames Garden Bridge found a series of procedural errors in the awarding of the deal.

The report came after a series of revelations by CN’s sister title Architects’ Journal into issues surrounding the award of the design deal on the now cancelled bridge project to architects Heatherwick Studios.

Construction News has contacted Arcadis for comment.

Readers' comments (1)

  • What ever happened to the EU Procurement Rules and the OJ? Restricted Tender lists are bound to cost more as Client does not lead to efficient procurement as the Client does not know what the price should be. If you go out to 8 to 10 tenderers you will get 6 to 8 valid tenders therefore if you get a group around the same figure you know what the right price should be (lowest price except in very special circumstances will give you the most problems). You also need to obtain the IChemE Red Book Schedule of things with limited lives to evaluate tenders on a TCO 'Total Cost of Ownership Basis'.

    Keep an eye on who or members of who's families get lucrative positions from the 'preferred' tenders over the next 10 years could be interesting.

    Contracting Strategy is also wrong, for best deal tender should be design and build, payment by milestones (if necessary - see below for finance option) with 10 year rolling contract for operation and maintenance on a n annual fixed fee with formula increased costs. You could even include finance in the fees with operating and maintenance reducing when the mortgage is paid off after say 10 years (I have examples of this system actually working - if any one [including CN] is interested

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