An impression of the joint venture's bascule bridge design © reForm architects & Elliott Wood engineers
An impression of the joint venture's bascule bridge design © reForm architects & Elliott Wood engineers

TfL in Thames bridge procurement row

14 February 2018

A joint venture (JV) bidding for the contract to design a multi-million pound bridge over the Thames said it is seeking legal advice over Transport for London’s (TfL) tender process. 

Engineering firm Elliot Wood and ReForm Architects, a JV that came up with an initial design for the bridge in 2015, said TfL’s decision to allow Arcadis to bid for the design deal represented a “conflict of interest”. 

Design consultancy Arcadis is the firm TfL asked to carry out a feasibility study of the bridge project last year. Its study advised against the JV's design being built.

The JV also accused TfL of going back on its initial plans to put the design contract out to open tender, opting to procure through one of its internal frameworks instead and leaving them unable to bid. 

“TfL are now tendering for a team to extend the Acadis work but crucially ReForm/Elliot Wood are barred from bidding for this due to not being on the TfL multidisciplinary framework and Arcadis’ recommendation not to pursue our bascule bridge,” they said.

“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.”

Elliot Wood and ReForm joined up in 2014 to come up with a design for a new bridge crossing the Thames from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf. In 2015, the JV created a concept design for a bascule bridge. 

In October 2016, London mayor 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.

The JV told Construction News (CN) that following the mayor’s announcement, TfL said it would be procuring the design contract through an open tender, with Elliot Wood and ReForm teaming up with engineer BuroHappold to bid for the deal. 

However, TfL then announced it had changed its procurement route and would be limiting bidders to only those of its multidisciplinary framework, which includes Aecom, Arcadis, Arup, Atkins, Jacobs, Mott MacDonald, Pell Frischmann, Ramboll UK and WSP.

Arcadis was then selected to carry out a feasibility study for the bridge, with the initial invitation to tender document for the contract declaring that Arcadis would be barred from bidding for the design deal, according to the JV.

As part of its feasibility study, Arcadis was asked to determine what type of bridge would be best for the scheme. The firm chose a vertical lift and horizontal swing bridge – ruling out the bascule bridge designed by the JV.

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

“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,” he said.

“We came up with the 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 on contractors to develop the scheme’.”

The claims come less than a year after Khan, who chairs TfL, cancelled the Garden Bridge project, which faced years of criticism over its procurement process

Responding to the claims, TfL said the two Arcadis bridge options were used to inform a public consultation, which closed last month, but no final decisions had been made on the best design. 

It said that Arcadis’s report had been given to all firms bidding for the deal and it was up to those bidders to decide the make-up of their teams. 

It added that the JV had been provided with the details of TfL’s framework partners so it could explore joining one of the partner’s bidding teams. 

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