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Private Finance stuck in the LIFT

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One of the government's first attempts to force through the Private Finance Initiative in small-scale primary healthcare has become embroiled in delays and local criticism.

Critics have reacted with frustration to ongoing setbacks on the proposals for a £2.5 million GP's health centre in Holloway, north London, after Soho-based Sprunt took over from the original architect.

The project forms part of an NHS Local Improvement Finance Trust (LIFT) pilot, announced in 2001 as an exemplar, which includes the construction of seven new facilities in Camden and Islington.

Problems first appeared on the Holloway scheme early in 2003 after designs by Camdenbased Monahan Blythen Architects - which had already won full planning permission - were dropped.

A new project by Sprunt replaced the designs after the developer Bluestone decided it would be more cost-effective to have all seven schemes drawn up by the same practice.

However, Islington council has told the AJ that these proposals have become caught up in the planning process due to design issues and are unlikely to secure permission until later this year.

And the Holloway Estate Residents Association has reacted to these delays by condemning the developer, the decision to drop Monahan Blythen, and the entire LIFT process.

'If the developer had stuck with the original designs the whole project could have been built by now, ' association chair Angela Slocumbe said. 'We desperately need this centre.

'We are not really any closer to getting the health centre than we were at the outset and the second project is not as good as the first. It is incredibly frustrating.

'If this turns out to be normal in the rest of the country, then the LIFT process will be a complete disaster, ' she added. 'I simply do not know how it can have been allowed to happen.'

And Monahan Blythen project architect Malcolm Birks agreed. 'It was incredible that we were not kept on when we had already won planning permission, ' he said.

'There is a lot of disappointment in the surrounding area as there are a lot of people who need the centre urgently. People are also frustrated with the delays, ' he added.

However, Paul Monaghan of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris - which won a design competition for another of the LIFT schemes and has since handed the project over to Sprunt for a design and build contract - insisted the PFI process was a success.

'I've found Sprunt very cooperative and the whole process fairly positive, ' Monaghan told the AJ. 'All the PFI processes have their faults and this one is no different.'

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