Architects have accused council bosses of not sticking to an agreed process when picking the design team for a multi-million pound Perth City Hall revamp.
Perth and Kinross Council was forced to defend its selection panel which recommended Dutch firm Mecanoo for the job, even though the company was placed third in a shortlist.
The five finalists, featuring big-name designers from across the world, were revealed to the public earlier this year following an international competition.
This week, councillors agreed to put Mecanoo in charge of the long-awaited project, which will see the city centre venue transformed into a major visitor attraction.
Although other designs scored higher, Mecanoo’s construction costs (at £11.4 million) were significantly cheaper, with the four other proposals estimated at between £14.7 million and £16.9m.
The companies’ fees have been kept under wraps. However, according to public papers Mecanoo scored just 4.6 for its fee, while the top designer scored 20.
Mecanoo was also Historic Environment Scotland’s preferred choice.
Now the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland has written to council leader Ian Campbell expressing its disappointment that the local authority had seemingly deviated from the selection process which was set out in bid documents.
The scoring criteria to assess the shortlisted entries against the brief – which was development by RIAS and agreed with council officers – were weighted 80% to architectural quality and 20% to fee.
The architect authority insisted on the relatively high ratio of quality to price to “reflect the importance of the design concept of the council.”
In a letter to Mr Campbell, RIAS president Stuart Henderson said that other shortlisted firms were disappointed with the result.
Mr Henderson said he learned that Mecanoo was the recommended practice in papers released ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
He told Mr Campbell: “You will appreciate this is contrary to the RIAS report following the recent quality/prize driven process for which we were appointed.
“Unsuccessful parties have expressed their disappointment at the variance from the procedure set out in the bid documents. We can only concur.”
A council spokeswoman responded: “The project brief had three core requirements – a building which delivers the operational needs of a major museum attraction; responds sensitively to the surrounding public realm; and is affordable and deliverable within the £20 million budget, £11m of which represented the construction cost element.”
She said: “Mecanoo’s design best met these core requirements of the brief in terms of quality and the ability to be delivered within the Council’s agreed budget for the project.
“This design also attracted the greatest support from local residents and businesses and taking into account initial views from Historic Environment Scotland which is a statutory consultee.”
The spokeswoman added: “As part of our wider plans for the transformation of Perth, the Council remains committed to delivering an outstanding cultural venue and we are looking forward to working with all our partners on this exciting next phase.”
The regeneration of Perth City Hall still requires planning permission. Work is expected to begin in 2018 and the new look venue is scheduled to open in 2021.
Perth City Hall timeline
The Hall became vacant as it lacked the layout and facilities needed for modern use, including disabled access, media facilities, green room space for artists and sufficient breakout space that is now required for modern cultural and conference venues. A consultation and tender process took place.
A plan for a mixed use retail development was given the go-ahead by the Council.
The development failed due to the inability of the developer to secure funding, as the property market had changed and there was no longer a market for such a facility.
An independent economic assessment by Locum and Colliers of the current and foreseeable economic climate confirmed the demolition of City Hall and the creation of a civic square as the most beneficial option for the local economy.
A survey of public opinion attracted 2,502 responses. The results showed that 57% of the public, 69% of businesses and 58% of market and event organisers support the creation of a public space following full or partial demolition of City Hall.
The Council gave planning consent for a Civic Square.
Due to its listed building status, a consent to demolish the City Hall was required by Historic Scotland, which was turned down.
The Council had to remarket the building, following Historic Scotland’s decision that more evidence was required to demonstrate that there was no viable use for it.
After a 15 month period, only one bid was received. This was independently assessed by Commercial Property experts, Jones Laing Lasalle, and found to be “lacking in detail in relation to proposed commercial terms, business case and funding arrangements”. In these circumstances, it would have been highly irresponsible for the Council to accept this bid.
Planning and listed building applications were received relating to proposals for a hotel on the site of Perth City Hall. The Council’s Development Management Committee approved these in May. Subsequently in June 2014 a meeting of full Council agreed to re-market Perth City Hall for long term lease for a further six month period.
As a result of the re-marketing five proposals were received for the redevelopment of Perth City Hall. These proposals were evaluated by independent commercial property expert, Jones Lang Lasalle, who concluded that three of the bids were non-compliant with the specific guidelines outlined as part of the marketing process.
The remaining two bids were brought forward for consideration and at a meeting in October 2015 Councillors agreed to select Perth Market Place Ltd (PMP) as the preferred bidder, and set 4 pre-conditions which must be met before the lease terms could be brought back to Council for agreement.
On 24 February 2016 Councillors were informed that the bidder had not fully met the pre-conditions and were asked to make a decision on the next steps. Following discussion Councillors agreed to suspend negotiations with PMP and instructed the Depute Chief Executive (Sustainability, Strategic & Entrepreneurial Development) to explore all options available to Council.
In early 2016 Councillors unanimously agreed to support the new Perth City Plan, including proposals to growth the city’s visitor economy through a new cultural attraction. Officers were asked to investigate potential sites for this new attraction.
A report on the options available was brought back to Council on 22 June 2016 alongside a report on the developing Perth’s cultural offering. After considering both of these reports Councillors agreed that to to formally end lease negotiations.
On 13 April 2017, Perth & Kinross Council announced the five shortlisted architectural firms in the competition to redesign the City Hall.
Between 12-24 June 2017, the shortlisted architects’ initial design concepts went on public display, and comments were invited.
On 16 August, councillors appoint Mecanoo to design the new building.