Sixty Bricks slammed by architects for ‘cost over quality’ brief

The council-owned development company has been criticised by The London Practice Forum for its approach to a new housing project brief, reports Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter

Cranes stock image (Credit: Unsplash/Nikola Johnny Mirkovic)

Leading London architects have openly criticised Waltham Forest Council for valuing cost over quality and planning to withhold fees.

The council’s building company, Sixty Bricks, recently invited architects to compete to design two new housing projects in Leyton and Walthamstow – totalling almost 70 new homes.

The brief sent to architects, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, shows bids would be scored on quality and price, “with the price criteria given a 60% weighting”.

Furthermore, more than a third of the successful architect’s fees for designing the two schemes would not be paid until and unless they received full planning permission.

A spokesperson for the London Practice Forum, which represents 22 architectural firms, said this was a “completely inappropriate way for a local authority to behave”.

They said: “When you score the pricing component so highly, which is very unusual, basically whoever is the cheapest is going to win. It’s impossible for the quality to overcome that.

“The Greater London Authority typically scores quality at 70% or even 75%, so this completely reverses that usual ratio.”

They also argued that the decision to temporarily withhold 40% of the architect’s fees dependent on planning permission effectively asked firms to “bankroll the council”.

They said: “Architects are paid 60% of their fees on submission and only get the remaining 40% once (the scheme is) approved.

“If you don’t get planning, you don’t get that 40% – but that is completely out of the hands of the architect and in the hands of the council (through its planning committee).

“It may be that larger practices can afford to take this risk but there’s no way a small practice could possibly risk not getting paid almost half of their fee.

“For a practice of our size, the value of that (40%) could be our running costs for a whole month, we could not survive if we were having it withheld until some point in the future.

“We have got projects where the planning decision has been pushed back for years. You are effectively asking an architect to not pay their rent or staff based on a deadline that could be months or even years in the future.”

They added that, while they had heard of “one or two” other bids where part of the fees were withheld until planning permission, it was “once in a blue moon” and never previously a London borough.

The London Practice Forum sent a letter, now published on its website, outlining these concerns to Waltham Forest Council on 5th May, but later said it was “roundly rejected”.

Asked by the Local Democracy Reporting Service to respond to this open letter, a council spokesperson said: “This is about procuring high quality, environmentally sustainable housing design, while also securing value for money. 

“The team has worked to balance these requirements in a way that suppliers can respond positively to. 

“The ability of suppliers to meet our environmental design standards is a prerequisite for a successful bid.”