Atkins and Network Rail endure a marriage of inconvenience, architects splash out on the Guggenheim Helsinki, Canadians pray for Canary Wharf, and all hell breaks loose on the UK’s roads. Plus, Zaha vs Japan


In sickness and in health

Do Atkins and Network Rail need marriage counselling? The UK engineering giant reported contraction in revenue and profit in its domestic market in half-year results published last week and, by way of explanation, pointed to issues in its rail and aerospace divisions. The firm’s outgoing UK & Europe chief executive David Tonkin told my journalist the rail division had been hit by “variations” on long-term Network Rail contracts. He followed this up with an analogy: “It’s like if you’re getting work done on your house and then your wife says, ‘Oh, I want another wall over there’. You could perhaps say, your wife should have thought of that at the start.”

For richer or poorer

There was consternation among consultants last week after the government’s decision to scrap the £750m UK SBS framework, with RLB estimating that the 15-month saga could cost the sector around £5m in wasted bidding costs. But news reaches us of an eye-wateringly expensive bidding process that puts this in the shade. The investors behind the planned Guggenheim Helsinki museum - which attracted a record-breaking 1,715 submissions from architects - have said total bid costs have already reached over €18m (£14.3m). At this rate perhaps the design competition will cost more than the actual building.

So help me GOD

“Canadians ask ‘God’ to help Canary Wharf bid” - so ran the headline in the Sunday Times at the weekend. The story was about Canadian investors Brookfield Property Partners and its partner the Qatar Investment Authority’s attempt to acquire the owners of Canary Wharf, Songbird Estates. With only their first £2.2bn approach knocked back to date, it seemed early for the Canadians and Qataris to be calling on divine intervention. But all is not as it seems. The “God” the Sunday Times referred to is former top civil servant Lord Gus O’Donnell, who has been drafted in to help with the bid. He gained the “God” moniker for the way in which he initialled documents at Whitehall.

Seventh circular of hell

As the saying goes, timing is everything. So it was unfortunate that chancellor George Osborne chose last Thursday and Friday for his tour of the country to assess road investment needs - just as workers were rushing to fill potholes on the M25 which had caused three lanes of the road to close. It appears the surface on the London circular between junctions nine and 10 became so bad on Thursday that a large number of cars’ tyres were damaged, causing the closure of three lanes of the motorway on Friday. Cue traffic chaos. Osborne, who travelled to visit road schemes in Yeovil, Norwich and the North-west in his two-day tour, could have found a road in need of attention much closer to home.

We’re on a road to nowhere

In more road news, a planning row over an unofficial toll road in Somerset has to be the oddest I’ve come across for a while. Businessman Mike Watts opened the road in August after the nearby A431 had to be closed due to a landslip - but hadn’t got planning permission. Rather than close the road the council told him to apply for permission retrospectively. Watts blasted the council in the national press last week for making “ridiculous” objections to the road, which still does not have planning permission. But here’s the bizarre bit - it’s due to close and be destroyed in a few weeks when the A431 reopens. The planning battle is literally a fuss over nothing.

Zaha Hansom

Exit the dragon?

Is there a backlash against Zaha Hadid’s architecture in the Far East? This month one of Japan’s most eminent architects, 83-year-old Arata Isozaki, became the latest person in the country to blast Zaha’s proposed 2020 Olympic stadium, which has been radically downscaled to cut costs. He said the “distorted” process had led to “a dull, slow form, like a turtle waiting for Japan to sink so that it can swim away”. Meanwhile, the Zaha Hadid-designed Soho China office complex in Shanghai opened this month. Critics pointed out that the huge scheme, shaped like three zooming bullet trains, was perhaps not in keeping with Chinese president Xi Jinping’s recent pronouncements not to build weird architecture.