Aggrieved parents of children at Pimlico School are planning to launch a judicial review of plans to demolish it under Westminster City Council's 'pathfinder' pfi project, given the green light by Home Secretary and parent governor chair Jack Straw.
Straw is coming under mounting criticism for appearing to pull strings for the project to go ahead in order for it to kick-start the £3.6 billion of education projects promised by chancellor Gordon Brown. The aim is for one-third of these to be brought forward by the so-far unsuccessful pfi mechanism.
This is the latest step in the fight by an army of protestors to preserve the 1970 school against redevelopment by Ellis Williams as part of the St George's Square Partnership consortium.
The school's original architect, John Bancroft, is to launch an appeal to raise the £14 million he needs to refurbish the building, in defiance of Westminster's plans. Bancroft, who with Alan Baxter, Max Fordham and Brian Sugden has worked up a scheme including new-build for the former ilea flagship school, said he was intending to approach building firms, including specialist glass manufacturers, in a bid for financial support. He is also trying to trace luminaries who may have gone on to illustrious careers in music and dance, for which the school is famous, as part of his money-raising efforts.
Last week angry parents slammed chair of the parent governors Jack Straw for seemingly going back on his word and sanctioning the demolition of the building under the plans, when a vote by all governors was just carried 10:8. The Ellis Williams replacement proposes a long teaching block along Lupus Street, a new performing arts and sports block, and 200 units of luxury housing.
Labour veteran Tony Benn has now joined the rallying calls to save the building - which English Heritage had recommended for a Grade II* listing, but was overruled by former heritage secretary Virginia Bottomley. riba president David Rock has also said he may use his muscle in the campaign if called upon to do so.
Headmaster Philip Barnard has had telephone conversations with Straw in the past week to find out if any of the new money promised by chancellor Gordon Brown to aid education buildings could come Pimlico's way. Straw said he had contacted education secretary David Blunkett but had been told that the money was only for 'emergency' repairs. Action-group leader Michael Ball added that the Department for Education had said three years ago, before pfi, that it would be willing to give the building only £2.5 million, since it was 'not high on its list of urgent cases'.
Brown's comprehensive spending review states that, of the £2.1 billion proposed for education buildings, Labour wants one-third of it - £660 million - to come from ppps (the new name for pfi projects). Pimlico is meant to be a 'pathfinder' pfi for others to follow. pfi has up to now proved a dismal failure as far as education buildings are concerned, prompting speculation that Straw is under pressure to make this scheme work as an exemplar.
Another problem for Westminster is that the district auditor is investigating claims that both the winning consortium and the runner-up used the Berkeley Group as a member, contrary to competition rules. The district auditor is expected to report back in September.
And a further obstacle to the pfi scheme could come from large-scale local opposition to a planning application, prompting the scheme to be called in for public inquiry. Various groups are already preparing documents on the matter.
The bulk of Law and Dunbar Nasmith's work for the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside 2001 Project, which received £24 million in lottery funding last week, is on the Liverpool Museum which suffered insensitive restoration after the Second World War. The design will include a new entrance leading to a top-lit atrium at the centre of the plan, allowing restoration of the historic circulation patterns.