The article on healthcare building in Wigan (5 May, pages 48-51) seemed to be trying to find fault with LIFT as a mechanism without being terribly successful. There seemed to be an uncomfortable acknowledgement that it was better, but not necessarily good.
If it is good design you are looking for there are two fundamental problems that apply to PFI and similar procurement methods. First, I strongly believe that the influence of the building contractor is far too strong in the private sector partner - there is far too great a tendency towards the bland and the economic. This will only change when contractors do not lead consortiums, but unfortunately they are the only organisations willing to risk the vast capital required to bid for the larger schemes.
The second problem is, however, more important, and it underpins the first: the inability of the public sector to properly recognise the value of good design. My company has put forward have put forward robust and competitively priced PFI proposals: one was for a court project designed by Piers Gough's CZWG, another was for an exemplar school designed by Walters & Cohen. These proposals were universally recognised by the judges, and by CABE, to have significantly better designs than their rivals. The awards went to contractor-led consortiums based on the perceived quality of their facilities management proposals. It is absolute nonsense that the ability to place cleaning and maintenance contracts should be allowed to justify the erection of (at best) bland buildings.
LIFT does, however, offer real hope that excellent design can flourish within a PFI-type environment. First, in the main, LIFT consortiums are not led by the building contractor. Second, the long-term nature of LIFT, the need to build close working relationships, the ability over time to demonstrate the real value of good design in health and other buildings, and the ability to promote higher quality design through integrated, mixed-use projects, all give rise to optimism that design outcomes can be dramatically improved in public sector buildings.
DJ Hudson, chief executive, Guildhouse