Battle of Greenwich Village

Prescott's scheme for a new way of living is nearly complete. But its backers are mired in a bitter legal feud
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The Independent Online

The Millennium Village, the ground-breaking housing development a few hundred yards from the dreaded Dome, has become embroiled in a bitter legal action.

HTA Architects, who were part of the original team which won John Prescott's competition to design innovative new homes for the Greenwich peninsular, is suing the developers, Taylor Woodrow and Countryside Properties, for more than £4m.

The writ, issued last week by lawyers Hammond Suddards Edge and obtained by the Independent on Sunday, claims that the two housebuilders have failed to pay HTA £985,000 for work already done and owe the company a further £3.26m from the expected profits of the £250m project.

The battle goes back to July 1997, when Labour decided to go ahead with the much derided project to build the Millennium Dome.

The then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, launched a competition for developers to come up with an innovative plan for housing on a neighbouring part of the Greenwich peninsular, in south London.

The contest was judged by Sir Stuart Lipton, the renowned developer. And in February 1998, he awarded the scheme to a consortium made up of HTA, Taylor Woodrow, Countryside and Ralph Erskine, the renowned Swedish-based architect.

However, barely had the champagne gone flat after the victory celebrations than problems started to emerge.

Ben Derbyshire, the architect leading the HTA team, started raising concerns that the Taylor Woodrow and Countryside's development company, Greenwich Millennium Village (GMV), was cutting costs and not sticking to the original plans. He was also concerned that many of the agreements struck between HTA and the developer were not being formalised in contracts .

In turn the developer refused to pay HTA for work that Mr Derbyshire insists was requested. By the middle of 1999 the relationship between the architect and the developers had broken down irrevocably. GMV says that it sacked the architects, though HTA maintains it resigned, writing an open letter to Sir Stuart Lipton complaining about how the project was being handled.

Though a report by consultants Gardiner & Theobold said that the changes GMV insisted on are consistent with the original plans, and Ralph Erskine is still involved in the project, HTA still feels aggrieved and believes it should have a share of the profits made from the scheme.

"HTA contributed its intellectual property, built up over many years, to a team that won the competition under our design leadership," said Mr Derbyshire.

"For a small company to have taken on that risk and contributed those kind of resources, yet receive no recompense, is clearly a problem for us. We feel lucky to have survived the experience."

His partner at HTA, Bernard Hunt, added: "This is clearly a case of the arrogance of a large organisation riding roughshod over much smaller suppliers."

A spokesman for GMV rejected the HTA allegations. "We have always considered that the termination of HTA's involvement was entirely justified and the claim has been refuted both in principle and in substance."

Work on the Greenwich project has continued apace, with the first stage completed and residents moving into the scheme.

However its neighbour, the Millennium Dome, remains shut and unsold.