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Essex snubs AHMM over Great Notley extension

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Essex County Council has snubbed Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects by ignoring the practice's bid to extend its own government exemplar and multi-award-winning Great Notley School project and giving it to another architect.

AHMM said 'internal machinations' at the council 'that would be Machiavellian if they weren't so dull' are to blame - and it is amazed that the council even commissioned another architect to write a briefing document on its success and the need for a 'sensitive' extension.

AHMM designed the school, near Braintree, to great acclaim, its low-energy principles and competitive £1.4 million cost leading to eight gongs including RIBA and Civic Trust awards and a spot on the Movement for Innovation's (M4I) list of 170 approved pathfinder schemes. M4I monitors all such projects, which put themselves forward as seeking to innovate or employ best practice in areas including working relationships.

But Essex, which already wants to extend the 1,800-pupil school, would not even shortlist AHMM for the work after interviewing the practice. Enfield-based Bryant Harvey Partnership is to take forward the project instead.

AHMM partner Simon Allford told the AJ: 'The whole thing is an example of local authorities and the crass, stupid nature of things like framework agreements. It's grotesque.'

Allford attributes the problem to a change in personalities involved within the council - one team running the build, another running the extension. 'I strongly feel it is a demonstration of bad management of local government finances and procurement systems after what was by any standards a great success.'

The scheme won School Building of the Year for 2000 from the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust; achieved Millennium Product status; was shortlisted in the British Construction Industry Awards in 2000; and was held up by government to illustrate its Better Public Buildings document as one of only six 'proud legacy' buildings featured.

And the school figured as a further exemplar in Schools for the future, published by the DfEE.

Gordon Powell, who ran the initial competition at Essex but not the extension job, said he could understand AHMM's frustration at not being allowed to add to its own building, especially because of the awards and achievements.

But he said the firm had, unusually, been invited to bid along with the panel of architects the council uses for extension jobs and that CABE had been happy with the process.

'They were given the opportunity, but it just didn't happen', he said.

Alastair Blyth, design adviser to the Design Council, which sponsored the initial competition for the school, said AHMM had no 'divine right' to win the scheme, but using the same architect 'made sense', especially since AHMM had already worked up, free of charge, two expansion studies for the building when it was built.

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