LEEDS CITY Council awarded the £172,000 contract to create the masterplan for one of Europe’s biggest regeneration opportunities to a consultancy firm that also acts for a major landowner within the development area.
Arup was the sole bidder for the brief to come up with the planning, urban design and transportation study for the South Bank in Leeds.
The engineering group also represents client Carlsberg, which owns the 23-acre former Tetley Brewery site in the South Bank.
The South Bank is being promoted to investors as “one of Europe’s most exciting sustainable growth locations” and will be home to the new station for the proposed high-speed rail link between London and the North.
A prominent property developer has been questioning the wide-ranging involvement of Arup in the development of Leeds.
Peter Connolly, of Yorkshire Design Group, called it “Arupisation” at a meeting last month and claimed that the interests of the company’s clients may not always match those of the city, giving the example of the Tetley Brewery to support his argument.
The council told The Yorkshire Post it was “satisfied that measures put in place meant there was no conflict of interest” in awarding the masterplan contract to Arup. The firm won the contract in July.
The council said the masterplanning is being led by members of Arup’s urban design team based in London and supported by Gehl Architects.
The council said the team leading this commission has not had any involvement with the South Bank to date and is not undertaking work for clients within the South Bank area.
A spokeswoman for Arup said: “We won’t be commenting on this occasion.”
In a press release at the time, Arup said it will work with Gehl “to ensure Leeds is ready to make the most of HS2 in terms of economic and regeneration benefits, while connecting opportunities with surrounding communities”.
Gehl, an internationally renowned expert in people-friendly urban design, is sub-consultant on the project.
The council said it put the contract out to tender to an approved framework of suppliers, including Aecom, Capita Symonds, Halcrow Group, Jacobs Engineering, Mott Mcdonald, Ove Arup and Partners and URS Infrastructure.
The council said Arup’s bid - the only one to be submitted - was “then thoroughly assessed to ensure it was compliant, achieved all requirements and offered value for money, in line with council policy”.
The council added: “As the bid fulfilled all of the requisite criteria and offered value for money, it was not deemed necessary to incur expenditure and retender the contract and Ove Arup and Partners were subsequently awarded the contract.”
Questioned about its policy on managing potential conflicts of interest, the council said it will request the bidder to provide in writing through the tender process how it intends to manage the conflict internally in order to assess the approach and risk before progressing.
Arup has around 250 employees at its office in Leeds and has been involved in many high-profile projects in the city. It carried out a review of the council’s planning department last year.
Station location still matter of debate
Talks are ongoing about the location of the HS2 station in the South Bank of Leeds.
The parties in negotiation are Leeds City Council, the Department for Transport, HS2 Ltd and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
The council said early stages of masterplanning for the South Bank take into account questions over the station location.
The council added that the detailed masterplanning will be done later in the year after the location has been announced.
Arup project director Jerome Frost has said that the arrival of HS2 will help to accelerate the future growth of the South Bank area.