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Boris Johnson Faces Questions On 'Deeply Worrying' London Bus Design

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The Mayor of London Boris Johnson poses for a photograph at a press call to unveil the full size static mock-up of the New Bus for London, at Acton Transport Depot in London, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) | AP

Boris Johnson is facing questions from senior London politicians over the "deeply worrying" way the design contract was awarded for the new London Routemaster bus, in a process legal experts have warned could have breached European law.

Valerie Shawcross, chair of the London Assembly Transport committee and Labour group Transport spokeswoman, told the Huffington Post UK that she has written to the Mayor demanding answers over the "very strange" process by which the Heatherwick Studios won the £428,000 design contract.

The London Mayor's latest model of buses, named the "New Bus For London", started service on February 2012 on select routes. The new double-decker buses were built by Northern Irish coachbuilders Wrightbus and designed by Heatherwick, who also designed the Olympic Cauldron used for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Transport for London admitted that Heatherwick was awarded the design contract "without competition" after a Freedom of Information Request from the Huffington Post UK. Transport officials decided the contract did not need to be publicly advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) nor to accept competing bids to be entered as it was “categorized as a part B service under the EU and UK procurement regulations”.

Shawcross said: "It is deeply worrying that the Mayor did not run an open competition for the extra design support needed for the New Bus for London."

"Awarding a £428,000 contract without even seeing if any other design studios had any good ideas seems very strange. Design considerations meant that the new bus does not have any windows.

"As has been reported, temperatures have reached over 30c with 77% humidity during the hot weather, leading to the bus being nicknamed the 'RoastMaster' by Londoners. If there had been an open competition would different designs of come forward that would have limited this problem? The fact is we will never know."

"With spiralling costs of £37million a year for the rear-platform conductors and the £30million excess costs of the new buses compared to comparable hybrids, this bus represents very poor value for money."

"The Mayor is planning on raising fares above inflation again in January, it is time he stopped wasting Londoners' money and kept a lid on fare increases.

"I have today written to the Mayor in his role as Chair of Transport for London asking what legal guidance he asked for and received before awarding this design contract."

Shawcross' letter in full:

Dear Boris,

I am writing regarding the £428,000 design contract you awarded to Heatherwick Studio. I would be grateful if for the record you could confirm exactly what procurement process was carried out in relation to the awarding of this contract?

Can you confirm, what legal guidance and advice, if any, you asked for and received before awarding this design contract? Can you also publish the guidance?

Given the difficulties with overheating on the top deck which has occurred over the summer period can you comment on whether you are satisfied that the New Bus for London is a satisfactory design and is fit for purpose?

Yours sincerely

Valerie Shawcross AM
London Assembly, Lambeth & Southwark