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Farrell wins Home Office cost fight

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Terry Farrell and Partners' Home Office scheme is finally going ahead - but only after a 'protracted' battle over costs.

The practice has been fighting to protect the quality of its Marsham Street scheme against constant pressures to cut the budget throughout the six years of negotiations towards a PFI deal. In particular, it has struggled to retain contested plans for the public realm around the building in London's Victoria.

Project manager Bouygues last week signed a £311 million PFI deal with the Home Office, which includes £182 million construction costs.

Farrell's project director Mark ShirburneDavies said it had been a constant battle to deliver the 'exemplary' scheme demanded by the Home Office with the money available.

The wrangles demonstrated the problem with PFI, he said - while it may produce best value, it does not necessarily produce best quality.

But he said that all parties were now happy with the financial agreement that had been reached.

'We've got to the point where everyone is comfortable with the budgets and the scheme and a building of the appropriate quality can be delivered. It feels like a victory getting to this stage. It has been the most protracted deal-making process you could ever imagine for doing a building, ' he said. But he added: 'It is the best scheme possible for the money available.'

The project - which the practice says 'represents a victory for integrated urban design and architecture' - includes an 'ambitious public arts strategy', three 'pocket parks' and a large civic space with trees and water.

Six buildings create 80,000m 2of space over six storeys, with three pedestrian routes cutting across the 0.8ha site. There will be shops, restaurants, kiosks, a crèche, and 100 apartments, together with offices for the Home Office and the Prison Service.

Shirburne-Davies said it was an example of the practice's interest in 'placemaking' and said it would bring a 'huge lift' to the area. And he added that Terry Farrell and Partners' involvement throughout the length of the project was written into the PFI arrangement.

The project, due for completion by 2005, replaces the much-criticised Marsham Street Towers, nicknamed the 'three ugly sisters'. It brings together the entire Home Office and the Prison Service, which is currently divided between six separate sites.

Demolition of the 25-storey towers - designed by Ministry of Works architect Eric Bedford - began last week and will take more than a year to complete. Bouygues said it would be the largest demolition work taking place in London. Sir Terry Farrell has been campaigning for 10 years to have the buildings destroyed.

In 1994, the practice was commissioned by the Department of the Environment, which was housed in the towers, to prepare preliminary plans for a new building.

The Lord Chancellor's Department will take over the current Home Office headquarters building at 50 Queen Anne's Gate. Refurbishment of Sir Basil Spence's 1970s building will cost around £100 million and involve extensive modernisation of the services and interior. Details of the procurement process - which could be a PFI - will be announced in the coming months, and an architect appointed in the summer.

The Lord Chancellor's Department has been leading the way in the promotion of good design for government buildings. It has been exploring a new model for PFI arrangements with its competition for the Manchester Civil Justice Centre, being battled out by Richard Rogers Partnership, Denton Corker Marshall and Pringle Richards Sharratt.

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