Wrecking ball soon for Pimlico

14th January 2000 at 00:00
MINISTERS are expected to approve the demolition and rebuilding of a London school under a controversial private finance deal - despite calls from its governors for a public inquiry.

Governors at Pimlico school, Westminster, have told the Department for Education and Employment that they cannot reach agreement on the private finance initiative and that an

independent public inquiry is needed to decide the way forward.

But the DFEE - which has ditheried over the scheme since last summer - now seems to have swung behind it. In letters to governors and Westminster education authority, schools minister Jacqui Smith says she approves plans to sell off part of the school's cramped inner-city site for luxury flats.

The sell-off is a key component of the PFI, and will help pay for the demolition of Pimlico's landmark but problematic glass and concrete buildings and their replacement with a modrn

multi-storey building.

The ministerial letter marks a change in government policy on PFIs - where private businesses contract to build, run and maintain public services and assets, such as schools and hospitals.

Previously, ministers said such projects require "unequivocal support" of all parties involved - including governors. But patience seems to be wearing thin with Pimlico PFI, now in its fourth year.

A departmental spokesman said: "Ministers are adamant that the governing body is closely involved in the final contract negotiations and the on-going development of the school, and believe there remains every possibility of support from all sides."

But Europe Singh, Pimlico's chairman of governors, said: "I don't know how they have arrived at this, because our last letter was very clear - we couldn't agree, and if anything, we are more entrenched in our opinions."

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