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Failed bid sparks more PFI fears

Yet another major question mark has emerged over the Private Finance Initiative's (PFI) ability to make use of top architects, following the collapse of a design-led bid in Norwich.

Three highly respected practices - Penoyre & Prasad, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, and van Heyningen and Haward Architects - were controversially dumped from a PFI bid for six schools in the East Anglian city earlier this month.

The firms were replaced at a late stage by locally based Feilden + Mawson after they failed to agree a fee deal with the firm heading up the consortium, Galliford Try.

It is understood that the fee scale proposed by the practices was up to double the figure that was acceptable to consortium bosses.

This failure represents a damaging blow for PFI 5, a group or five practices that planned to work together to win medium-scale PFI education work (AJ 5.6.03). Also involved with the collaboration on other bids and proposals are Hawkins/Brown and Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects.

If the three offices had picked up the work in Norwich, they would have taken on the design of five PFI primary schools and one secondary school.

Greg Penoyre, a founding partner of Penoyre & Prassad, said the collaborative design team was extremely unhappy to have lost out on the work. 'It would have been a really nice job if we had won it, ' he said. 'But this is the nature of the PFI system at the moment.

'But the blame must not be laid at the door of the consortium. It was not its fault - the problem lies with the process, as it really is very messy. The process is unrealistically demanding for bidders because they are forced to try and save money due to the massive waste they have to absorb.

'What is really concerning is that it is getting worse out there because bidders are finding it tougher and tougher and they are cutting more and more costs, ' he added. 'The situation in Norwich does seem to bear out what a lot of people have been saying about PFI.' And Penoyre won the sympathy of Deborah Saunt, who worked as a CABE enabler for the bidding consortium.

'This was a shame as they were only dropped at the last minute, ' she said. 'Everyone involved had been pleased to have them on board on this and to be able to utilise their design skills.'

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