As 700 school-building projects are stopped, architects give Merlin Fulcher their reactions to the government’s decision to end the £55 billion BSF programme
‘It has been a huge body blow to the profession and outside of architecture too,’ said Jude Harris, associate director at Jestico + Whiles, of the death of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. ‘There will be schools waking up this morning who have spent years working on projects and are still in sub-standard educational facilities.’
On Monday (5 July) the coalition government officially plunged its cost-cutting axe into Labour’s £55 billion school-building programme, finishing off hopes of redevelopment for more than 700 schools.
Until the last moment, practices continued to work on BSF bids. Almost £1.5 billion worth of projects were allowed to reach ‘preferred bidder’ status in the weeks following the general election in May, but most are now on the rocks.
Education secretary Michael Gove told the House of Commons he had to ‘bear down on the waste and bureaucracy’ and ‘rein back projects which have not been properly funded’ as he effectively canned the 20-year programme.
Tim Byles, chief executive of BSF delivery body Partnerships for Schools, defended the messy situation, insisting the decision had been taken ‘as rapidly as possible’. But this is little comfort for those who face laying off staff.
A ‘shocked’ Jonathan Herbert, managing director at Bond Bryan Architects, which shrunk by half during the recession, said: ‘This feels like a dark day for education, for the construction industry and for the economy.’
Russell Brown, director at Hawkins\Brown, said: ‘Where contractors and architects have put a lot of money into a bid and it’s suddenly stopped they will be seeking to have those costs covered… But is it going to be like the LSC?’ In 2009, the government stopped dead the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) building project, leaving 41 colleges in financial difficulties and scores of architects unpaid.
According to Gove, no BSF frameworks reaching ‘preferred bidder’ status since 1 January will proceed. But there is a glimmer of hope for sample schools and the 123 academy projects, which will be reviewed on a ‘case-by-case’ basis.
A comprehensive review led by Sebastian James, operations director of the Dixons Store Group, will find ways to drive down the costs of new school-building, which are expected to ride roughshod over design standards.
‘Problems with bureaucracy were easing and the quality of design was getting more refined. Gove has thrown out the baby with the bathwater’
BSF’s demise is seen by many as a lost chance to deliver quality educational infrastructure. Paul Monaghan, director at Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, said: ‘The problems with bureaucracy were easing and the quality of design was getting more refined. It’s almost like [Gove has] thrown out the baby with the bathwater.’
CABE’s dedicated BSF design-advice service review has also been axed, cutting close to £1 million from its overall budget. Monaghan asked: ‘Who’s going to champion design in all those new schools now that CABE’s remit has been taken away?’