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Coincidence can raise suspicions

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It is a rule of journalism that coincidence is always to be treated with suspicion. This can lead on the one hand to lines of enquiry which throw fresh light on what may not, after all, be a coincidence at all; on the other it results in the wildest of conspiracy theories. Coincidences are by no means rare. Take the proposed trial of the alleged Libyan Lockerbie terrorists. At just the moment when some international agreement is about to be reached on when and where a trial should take place, up pops a renegade MI5 man with a claim that British intelligence had plotted to murder the Libyan president. Funny timing.

All this is a long way from our own quiet world of architects going about their business. But even in the peaceful streets of Pimlico, suspicions are rife concerning the involvement of the Home Secretary in the future of Pimlico School, the 1970s icon which is threatened with demolition and replacement by a residential development and new school. Jack Straw is chairman of the governors - a role he should surely have vacated on achieving ministerial office. More significantly, he is married to a Treasury official whose field of responsibility is the private finance initiative policy. Guess what, the proposed scheme to replace Pimlico is a pfi project, in which two schemes (both involving the same housebuilder) are slugging it out for backing.

The vast majority of parents, teachers and local residents are opposed to demolition. What they want is the building properly refurbished in the first instance, and extended and upgraded if possible. There is a hefty price tag attached to the latter course of action (£14 million), but there are cheaper options. In any event, Mr Straw is in danger of becoming much too involved with something which is not his business, and smacks of a doctrinaire desire to 'prove' that pfi is the answer to all our ills. It certainly has its place, but not at Pimlico School.

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