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EH asked to reconsider Pimlico School for listing


The Twentieth Century Society has asked English Heritage chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens to intervene in the listing saga surrounding Pimlico School.

Society director Kenneth Powell this week wrote to Sir Jocelyn pointing out that eh's steering committee on listings of post-1945 buildings had not declared the building 'unlistable in any grade' when it assessed the building for Grade II* status in November 1996, as has been claimed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Because the building, threatened by demolition by Westminster City Council's pfi pathfinder scheme, is now 30 years old, it qualifies to be newly assessed by eh as a potential lower Grade II listing. Powell said that eh's steering committee - chaired by Bridget Cherry and including Alan Powers and Gavin Stamp - was only unconvinced that it was 'outstanding' originally and would welcome an opportunity to reconsider the matter. He has asked Sir Jocelyn to clarify if this view was the substance of eh's 1996 advice to the department, then presided over by Virginia Bottomley.

'As an independent body, not a department of state,' Powell writes, 'English Heritage is surely entitled to take a view, on occasions, which is at odds with the government.' Powell urges Sir Jocelyn to reconsider Pimlico School's 'listability', and take a positive stance in the 'landmark case', 'regardless of the political and financial pressures for demolitiom'.

The original architect, John Bancroft, told the aj this week that he hoped to enlist the help of Sir Colin Stansfield Smith, Alan Baxter and riba president David Rock to promote his own refurbishment ideas for the building, which he has costed at £12 million, including fees.

Earlier this week former chairman of Pimlico's governors Jack Straw forced apologies from the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times over false allegations of a conflict of interest. The papers printed apologies over linking Straw's wife, Alice Perkins, with Treasury approval of money to redevelop the school. In fact, Perkins transferred from the Treasury to become the new director of resources and services (principal establishment and finance officer) at the Department of Health, and started her new post on 2 February. She had been at the Treasury since 1993, the aj was told this week, dealing with spending issues relating to the Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth department and the ministry of agriculture - but not PFI. At the health department her job includes looking at the finance functions relating to local-authority social services and health administration expenditure.

The Treasury gave Westminster's application to develop Pimlico School a notional credit approval in February 1998, having received the application the previous month. The government 'expects' that the pathfinder pfi will be signed by February 1999 to help kickstart the mechanism for schools around the country, so that government can contribute to infrastructure without risk and with no effect on the psbr. In the current circumstances, however, with opposition to the scheme mounting and media interest escalating, this may be more easily said than done.

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