'Victory' for Pimlico School
Westminster City Council's long and bloody battle to try and replace Pimlico School with a pfi scheme and luxury housing looked to be finally over this week when the school's governors refused to budge in their opposition to the controversial proposals.
The governors met this week to vote in a new chairman and vice-chair, but significantly did not attempt to overturn a 2 November resolution they passed to refuse to give 'clear and unequivocal' support to the scheme.
And that measure of support was precisely what the Department for Education and Employment (dfee) said it must have before it could pass off the cuts to play-space and change of use to housing - in the face of government policy - that the scheme hinged upon. Now the governors are declaring a stalemate in the battle, since they say the dfee would have to resort to 'changing the goalposts' in order to ratify the moves and go forward.
'If the dfee keeps its word it's a victory for Pimlico School, which many of us are convinced would not have survived the rebuilding plans' said the governors' vice-chair Michael Ball. 'And it's a victory for the dfee, who can now spend the £25 million on more willing partners. Now we've all got to think hard about how to fund major capital repairs where pfi proves unsuitable. I hope that some of the great and good who wish to see the current building retained will now help in that process.'
Ball was a key opponent to the plans, which Labour wanted so much to flag as a 'pathfinder', inner-city example of the pfi process working for schools. He predicted that both the dfee and Westminster will now want to keep quiet about their failure to activate the unpopular scheme, given the council's investment of over £1.5 million in trying to make it happen. Some governors are seeking a public inquiry - although not a planning inquiry - to resolve the matter.
However, Westminster City Council's project manager Karen Watling denied it was the end of the road and said the council was still 'in discussion' with the dfee to 'try to resolve the situation as quickly as possible'. She refused to discuss specific actions and denied the department had set a deadline. But she was adamant that Westminster would not meet considerable costs the St George's Square consortium has expended trying to push the scheme forward: 'It is a reasonable assumption to make that they'd be out of pocket if it all founders' she said, 'but the private sector knows that when it enters into these kind of things.'
Over the years the saga has involved questions over the listability of the 1970 structure designed by John Bancroft, the transgression of local and national planning principles and the near-universal condemnation of the Ellis Williams-designed project from teachers, pupils, locals and parents. It has also weighed heavily on the mind of home secretary Jack Straw, an ex-chair of the governors and parent of one of the pupils. Now, however, Pimlico School looks to have survived the lot of them.