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Planning with passion

I was City Architect for 10 years, then the golden opportunity to run this department came along. I've always been passionate about quality of design but I'm also passionate about the public sector. We get amazing opportunities that people in the private sector say they would die for.

One thing that did hit me, when I started working in education, was how important schools are in the community. When the shopping centre has disappeared and the library has shrunk, the school is the most important community building.

It is an exciting time for us. We're supervising a massive rebuilding programme. The council is about to form a partnership with its in-house construction service and Keir, an international construction company. The service will be enhanced, providing faster response times for emergency work.

Sheffield has embraced the private finance initiative. Six new schools were built during the first phase, costing pound;46 million, and they all opened within a year. We're now working on our third PFI project, bidding for a fourth and setting up a new type of PFI with Barnsley.

We have shadow design teams, to monitor the bidding process, with representatives from schools, LEA departments and designers from my team. We examine the bid in detail, and, with so much expertise, that way we end up with better designs.

The first PFI schools were built in a rush - good designs but not good on detail. They did not have good acoustics, so the shadow team asked to see the contractor's calculations and rejected them. They all now have suspended ceilings.

I'm also involved with the Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment, a government agency set up to raise the quality of design in public sector buildings.

The private sector can innovate. I know a school where the contractor has full-time housekeepers rather than part-time cleaners and they go round school throughout the day, so litter does not linger.

I believe a stimulating building can transcend the mundane. It can give people, especially in deprived areas, a vision of where education can take them.

Interview Kevin Berry

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