A delay of at least six months in naming architects for the £600 million New Street Station redevelopment is the latest setback adding to a growing sense of frustration with Birmingham City Council over the ‘Gateway’ scheme.
Council leaders expected to be in a position to announce the winners of a competition to design the facade and concourses of the new station in April, but Network Rail is yet to reach contractual agreement with the preferred company, London-based Foreign Office Architects.
The winner of the £30 million concept design contract, billed by Network Rail as bringing “magic and excitement” to the scheme, is not expected to be revealed until September, at the earliest.
A senior source at the heart of Gateway said last night there were fears that Network Rail was attempting to cut costs and “dumb the thing down”.
Ongoing negotiations are understood to centre on maintenance costs and the way FOA’s design proposals would fit into a railway environment.
Network Rail wants more work to be carried out, including costings, before the designs can be handed over to lead consultant Atkins.
There are also thought to be differences of opinion about the precise relationship between FOA, Atkins, Network Rail and the firm BDP, who are the lead architects for Gateway. FOA’s ability to influence the scheme once work begins is believed to be at the heart of the discussions.
The source added: “You could certainly say there is frustration about the length of time this is taking.”
The latest hiccup comes after protracted discussions between Network Rail and the Department for Transport about the business case for New Street.
Although Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly announced in February this year that the scheme would go ahead, with £400 million of Government funding, her decision followed almost two years of intense behind-the-scenes wrangling which saw the Gateway finances forensically examined by Whitehall.
At one stage Ms Kelly said it was unclear whether the scheme offered value for money, but later changed her mind. And last month, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee urged the Government to consider scrapping Gateway altogether and to build instead a new station, the Grand Central, at Eastside.
MPs feared Gateway would be little more than a “cosmetic” exercise and would not deliver greater rail capacity. Murray Ranyer, the surveyor behind Ove-Arup’s rejected plan for Grand Central, responded by accusing “half-wit politicians” of missing a golden opportunity to give Birmingham a major new station.
The decision to appoint Gateway concept architects was taken as a result of concern about the quality of initial designs published by Network Rail.
Drawings of the new station were dismissed as lacking the wow factor by city council regeneration director Clive Dutton. But complex arrangements for overseeing Gateway mean that the concept architects must work alongside BDP and under the control of Atkins and, ultimately, Network Rail.
Mr Dutton insisted New Street remained on course to be completed by 2014. He said: “Nothing has changed. Our expectation is that we will achieve an exceptional design for such an important project and that this will underline Birmingham’s position as a world city.
“For £400 million of public money we ought to get something that is exceptional and I shall be doing my best to make sure we do.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “No decision has yet been made. We are in the latter stages of negotiations with a preferred bidder. Negotiations with the concept designer would have always kicked up areas of interest and intrigue.”
“But at every stage of the process it has always been intended that the concept designer would play an integral part in the overall team that will take designs into production.”
Foreign Office Architects, whose best known projects include the Yokohama International Port Terminal in Japan and the BBC Music Centre, declined to comment.