The long and controversial saga surrounding Westminster City Council's attempts to demolish and rebuild Pimlico School took another twist this week when the Department for Education and Employment (dfee) ruled that the results of last month's crunch meeting to decide its future (aj 16.9.99) were in fact null and void.
As the aj went to press, schools minister Jacqui Smith sent a letter to key governors and Westminster in which she made clear that the governors meeting last month, at which the pro-pfi contingent outweighed the antis by 10-9, was 'out of order'. This was because it seemed to pass too much responsibility to Westminster - governing bodies cannot delegate statutory powers which relate to the running of the school to councils.
So now, the dfee advises, a new vote will have to be carried out - and quickly - before the department can sanction the cuts to the playing- field space the pfi developers need to build luxury housing on part of the school site.
The news will come as a major blow to the Westminster contingent, who had taken the outcome of the 13 September vote as proof that the governors 'unequivocally' supported the £50 million, Ellis Williams-designed scheme. Former schools minister Charles Clarke had said that his department was looking for unequivocal support before it would agree to sanction the changes. Whether or not a 10-9 vote was actually 'unequivocal' was still being grappled with when Smith made the decision to effectively call for a new vote.
But it is understood that new minister Smith has now shifted the goalposts by asking only for the governing body to signal its 'clear' support for the demolition and rebuild project.
Nick Tomlinson, from the dfee's schools private finance team, said the dfee still supported the scheme and remained minded to approve the consents. But without wishing to get into 'semantics' he conceded that 'clear' support is less than 'unequivocal', suggesting that it has indeed relaxed its position to push the proposals through.
Architect and school governor Rob Hughes said: 'I just think it's a mess.'