A LAST-MINUTE intervention by deputy prime minister John Prescott has halted controversial plans to rebuild a school.
Two hours before a crucial planning meeting, his department issued a directive delaying any decisions on the private finance deal to knock down and rebuild the landmark Pimlico school in central London.
It has also emerged that opponents of the Pimlico PFI have secured the support of Lord (Richard) Rogers of Riverside, the influential architect and head of the Government's urban task force, due to report on inner-city redevelopment next week.
Lord Rogers - who is friendly with Mr Prescott - was unable to comment on the detail of the Pimlico scheme. But he told The TES he was a supporter of the current "Brutalist" building - which is listed has many fans in the architectural world.
"I am convinced there is scope for significant improvement to the existing building," he said.
Mr Prescott's "article 14" directive gives the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions time to decide whether to "call in" the long-running scheme for a full public planning inquiry.
Subject to the deputy prime minister's approval, Westminster councillors have agreed revised plans for Pimlico which involve demolishing the concrete and glass buildings to make room for a new school and a luxury housing development. The school overheats in the summer, is cold in the winter, and suffers from leaks and other maintenance problems.
A council spokesman insisted the article 14 delay was to resolve technical issues and did not mean the Pimlico scheme would go to a full planning inquiry.
But a spokeswoman from the DETR said ministers wanted to ensure the proposals were in line with Government policies on affordable housing.
Even if the project overcomes the planning hurdle, Westminster City Council still has to persuade governors to back the scheme. Earlier this year, they withdrew their previous support for the PFI deal, citing concerns about loss of a quarter of the site to housing and the disruption to pupils and staff. Last year Jack Straw, a supporter of the PFI project, resigned as chairman of governors after he lost a vote of no confidence.