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Strike action could kill off Rogers/Grimshaw towers

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Plans for major towers by Lord Rogers and Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, worth £630 million, could be 'doomed' by strikes by Westminster council staff.

Planners and other Unison members started a week's strike action involving hundreds of staff on Monday. The union said Westminster was privatising all its services but refusing to protect staff conditions such as pensions. Its walk-out would 'paralyse' the planning process and could be the first of many stoppages, warned shop steward Jim Thomson. 'If the dispute is drawn out it could put a check on any major scheme in the planning process, like the revised proposals for Paddington, ' he said. 'Towers by Rogers and Grimshaw have already been negotiated down in height and they could be affected by a long-running dispute. And because the market is volatile, the worst that could happen is they don't go ahead at all.'

Thomson said 20 administrative staff from the 100-strong planning and development control section were striking and if 'push came to shove' the entire team would follow. 'Everything will come grinding to a standstill, ' said Thomson, an assistant area planning officer. 'No applications will be booked, documents won't be issued and agendas and decision-making will stop.'

The Richard Rogers Partnership's 30-storey tower is waiting for approval after the council supported the plan in principle this March. The building, for offices and flats, was due to be finished in 2004, but the original £300 million mixed-use plan was scaled down from 42 floors.

Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners' £360 million reworking of Paddington station has also had a rocky ride. Plans for a 200m block of 42 storeys were halved last year, but CABE said the new scheme lacked clarity and refinement.

Thomson urged the two architects to back their demands to protect working conditions. Earlier this year, Westminster awarded a £1 billion contract - the largest-ever local government contract - to Vertex SW1. The consortium, which includes Ernst & Young, will run all Westminster's services.

Thousands of council staff will be transferred to the contractor, and Unison says their employment terms have not been protected. Branch secretary George Foggo said the council was being 'rigid, unblinking and dogmatic' and acting against government advice.

'If the government says we should be protected, it is reasonable to expect protection. Taxpayers' money is being used to make profits for firms like Vertex.We are being mugged.'

Lord Rogers was unavailable for comment and Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners did not return our telephone calls.

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