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Education minister admits to rethink on PFI for schools Rogers reaches for the sky

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The government is set to rein in the Private Finance Initiative in school construction, following warnings about design standards.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has admitted that less than 60 per cent of the schools in its 2005 construction programme will be built using the controversial PFI.

And schools minister David Miliband told the AJ he could foresee a situation in which the scheme would be used only for construction, with 'little refurbishment work' using private finance.

At a departmental briefing last Wednesday, Miliband outlined how the DfES will spend the £5.7 billion the Treasury has allocated it for schools construction in 2005. Of the renewal fund - distributed to schools straight from the department - only 55 per cent will be PFI cash, he said, compared with 100 per cent in 2002.

And a new DfES procurement guide, Building Schools for the Future, admits there has been a change in emphasis. 'We know that while some local education authorities and schools have been delighted with the approach, others have found it difficult, ' the report says. 'We think that this calls for a pragmatic approach and we need to use a balance of procurement methods.'

Miliband said he recognised the validity of architects' concerns about PFI in relation to design, and he outlined plans for the development of 12 exemplar classroom designs, which will eventually be made available to schools across the country. Expressions of interest in the project have been received from many of the country's bestknown practices.

But Miliband stressed that this is not the beginning of the end for PFI. 'This is a very important procurement tool that, in many recent cases, has delivered some fantastic school buildings, ' he said.

The announcement comes only two weeks after RIBA president Paul Hyett and the institute's head of government relations, Jonathan Labrey, met Miliband to emphasise the profession's concerns about the procurement method.

RIBA councillor Simon Foxell, author of the institute's policy statement on PFI, said he was pleased to hear that the government was at last reexamining the scheme. 'They need to take a deep breath and work out what it is they hope to achieve, ' he said. 'If all they want is repetitive tin buildings, they should stick with it.

'We are also worried about the finances of the projects, ' Foxell added. 'I hope the government has done some calculations and realised that the costs do not all add up.'

The Richard Rogers Partnership is preparing a planning application for these two skyscrapers in London's Canary Wharf.The 28- and 34-storey towers flank another lowrise building and will, combined, produce 158,853m 2of office space and 5,904m 2of retail space.The towers - on a site outside the Docklands Development area known as Riverside South - are linked in the centre of the site by the smaller building, which sits above a multi-level atrium that will overlook the river.Retail and restaurant units have been designed to line the riverside frontage on the lower ground level, producing the longest stretch of leisure and retail developments on the Thames.Floorplates within the towers vary in size between 2,300m 2and 2,700m 2.The plan, scale and massing of the towers were developed by RRP to reflect the geometric nature of the site and the importance of the river frontage.The buildings will be clad in clear glass, set in a stainless steel and aluminium façade.RRP is expected to lodge an application for planning permission with Tower Hamlets council within days.

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