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Pioneering PPP bid process for £50m Manchester centre

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The Lord Chancellor's Department is choosing from a long list of big-name architects to design its £50 million-plus Manchester Civil Justice Centre in an initiative that will provide a model for future Public Private Partnership arrangements.

The department will shortlist three practices from a list of 12 that includes Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, Kohn Pederson Fox and Feilden Clegg Bradley. Foster and Partners and Richard Rogers Partnership are also understood to be in the running.

In the first arrangement of its kind, the architect and developer are being chosen independently of one another. The three shortlisted practices will then work closely with the chosen developer during the preparation of their competition schemes. By contrast, in a classic PPP, the developer's bid includes a pre-prepared design scheme - critics claim the result is frequently a poor design. Project advisor to the court service Simon Daniels said the competition represents the court service's aspirations to improve the design quality of its buildings.

This particular scheme, an important civic building, 'lends itself to this approach, ' he said.

The Lord Chancellor's Department has been leading the way in the promotion of good design in government buildings. It was the first government department to approach CABE chairman Sir Stuart Lipton as a response to the government's 'Better Public Buildings' initiative, and the first to appoint an architectural champion, Ian Ritchie.

CABE commissioner Ritchie, who has been advising the department on the Civil Justice Centre, said the department's enthusiasm for quality in design comes from the top - from Lord Irvine himself. 'Certain staff within the Lord Chancellor's Department come at it with open eyes and open minds, ' he said. 'It's not just a talking shop.'

With this project, the department can be confident that any of the three schemes will result in a good building, he said. That the architects being considered are high profile is 'incidental' - the result of a rigorous selection process from the raft of applications made.

The Civil Justice Centre will consolidate Manchester's court service facilities on a single city-centre site of approximately 24,000m 2.The building will house 20 courts as well as tribunal and hearing rooms. Discussions are continuing into whether crown courts will also be incorporated into the scheme. The city's magistrates courts are being housed in a separate building, designed by Gensler.

While the Civil Justice Centre will be a PPP arrangement, it is not yet clear whether it will be a Private Finance Initiative - a letting and building services contract, or a private developer scheme - simply a building contract.

The Lord Chancellor's Department hopes to announce the three shortlisted architects, the developer and the site in the next few weeks. The winning scheme will be chosen towards the end of January, and the centre should be operational by 2004.

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