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Gove's department picks firm for HQ it previously sued

Education secretary Michael Gove has provoked a barrage of criticism after his department selected BDP to refurbish its historic new headquarters building which it sued three years ago for alleged negligence

It emerged this week that the Department for Education (DfE) has chosen BDP to redevelop Whitehall’s 18th-century Old Admiralty Building, the former home of the Royal Navy overlooking Horse Guards Parade, as offices for the department.

In July 2011, Gove and the DfE lodged a £3 million High Court claim accusing BDP – in its role as structural and service engineer on the Stirling Prize-nominated Westminster Academy – of ‘negligent breach of duty’ connected to ventilation faults and problems with the building’s sports hall.

The claim was later settled out of court but shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan said Gove was guilty of ‘double standards’.

‘Michael Gove reduced building standards for schoolchildren, including allowing office buildings to be used for new schools and attacking architects as a waste of money,’ said Brennan. ‘The fact that he is using an architect he previously sued to create swanky offices for himself in palatial surroundings in Whitehall illustrates his double standards and skewed priorities.’

John O’Connell, director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Taxpayers will find it utterly bizarre that the department has awarded this costly contract to a company they have previously sued for negligence, and we hope to see a far smoother and less expensive relationship this time around.’

BDP’s appointment also comes three years after Gove told a Free Schools conference: ‘We won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design [schools] because no one in this room is here to make architects richer.’

Relations between Gove and the profession deteriorated further after it later emerged that new standardised schools would be 15 per cent smaller and £6 million cheaper than previous designs under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

Peter Morris of Peter Morris Architects said: ‘Giving yourself an 18th-century palace in Whitehall, refurbished by leading UK designers and condemning school children to learn in prefabricated classrooms is hypocrisy that belongs to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.’

About 1,600 DfE civil servants will occupy the Grade II-listed Old Admiralty complex when the 18,000m² overhaul completes in 2017. Each worker will have about 11.25m² of workspace, compared with 6m² per pupil or 8m² per teacher in a typical new school.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: ‘It is quite right that the DfE believes its staff need sufficient space and a pleasant environment to work in. It is a great pity, however, that they do not believe schools should have the same entitlement.

‘The academies and free school programme is seeing many schools open in inappropriately small premises and with little or no additional space for rooms such as school halls or playgrounds.’

BDP won the Old Admiralty job, part of the government’s ongoing consolidation of its estate, as part of a team led by Mace. The construction cost has yet to be announced but the design contract is worth up to £5 million.

A DfE spokesman denied the charge of hypocrisy. ‘Whether we are building new schools or moving offices, our absolute priority is to cut costs and maximise value for money,’ he said. ‘Under BSF, millions of pounds were squandered on exorbitant design fees. That was an unacceptable use of taxpayers’ money. It’s why we have cut construction costs in school building programmes by 40 per cent and introduced standardised designs for school buildings. However, no architects have been barred from building new schools, even if we have minimised the scope for lucrative contracts.

‘Our office move will save more than £19 million a year for the taxpayer including more than £8.5 million for the DfE.

‘The architects were appointed following a process designed to maximise value for money.’

Previous story (AJ 08.07.14)

Michael Gove branded a ‘hypocrite’ as he picks BDP for HQ

Education secretary slammed for criticising ‘award-winning’ architects before selecting BDP to design his department’s new home

Architects have branded education secretary Michael Gove a ‘hypocrite’ after BDP was selected by the Department for Education (DfE) to create a new headquarters for it inside Whitehall’s Old Admiralty Building.

The leading AJ100 practice won the job as part of a team led by Mace and also including engineer Hoare Lea.

The latest appointment comes four years after Michael Gove controversially blamed architects for ‘creaming off cash’ under Labour’s £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme. After the Coalition took power and Gove was appointed Secretary of State for Education, he also said that ‘award-winning architects’ should not work on Free Schools and singled out Richard Rogers by name.

Relations between Gove and the profession deteriorated further after it emerged two years ago that plans for new standardised schools which would be 15 per cent smaller and £6 million cheaper than previous designs.

Peter Morris of Peter Morris Architects said: ‘Giving yourself a 18th Century Palace in Whitehall, refurbished by leading UK designers and condeming school children to learn in prefabricated classrooms is hypocrisy that belongs to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.’

Calling for higher standards of new schools design, he added: ‘We don’t want to live in Gove’s Farm anymore.’

Elena Tsolakis of Kyriakos Tsolakis Architects said: ‘Michael Gove must be mincing his words now, after [claiming] taxpayers money [was wasted] on designing our schools. Its ironic that for his own commission he hires one of the biggest practices around while he is happy for the children of the country to be educated in flat-packed, shrunken schools.’

She continued: ‘The UK has been at the forefront of educational design through the BSF programme and our education design expertise has become an export for us.

‘The school building budget runs into the billions and tens of millions of square meters so they need to be well design, considered, sustainable buildings that are beacons of learning. Now that [would be] taxpayers’ money well spent.’

Around 1,600 DfE civil servants will occupy the Grade II-listed eighteenth century complex when the 18,000m² overhaul completes in 2017.

Each worker will have around 11.25m² or workspace compared to 6m² per pupil in a typical new school where teachers’ offices are usually 8m². 

The cost of refurbishing the Royal Navy’s former London headquarters has yet to be announced but the design contract is worth up to £5 million and the relocation is expected to save DfE £8.5 million a year.

According to the tender notice published in April, the new headquarters will have a BREEAM very good rating and be a ‘class leading facility that is not overly elaborate and which offers demonstrable value for money.’

The move is part of the government’s on-going consolidation of its estate which has so far raised £1 billion from projects including Blair Associates’ transformation of nearby Admiralty Arch into a hotel.

A spokesman for the department said the Old Admiralty move would save more than £19 million a year for the taxpayer, including an annual saving of more than £8.5million for the Department for Education.

According to the department, the relocation from its existing, rented home at the Sanctuary Buildings to the freehold property would ‘proivde excellent value for money’ and mean that the DfE ‘will not have to renegotiate a lease and will be much cheaper to run in the future’.

The spokesman added: ‘The proposed move is the latest step by DfE to reduce the cost of its property estate. Since May 2010 it has reduced the annual cost of its buildings by £17 million.

‘[We will] will save another £2.5million in 2014 through moving out of buildings in Guildford, Cambridge and central London.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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