Claims of misuse of public money fly as government weighs up rival redevelopment plans.
A row is brewing over a £60m plan to provide the Home Office with a privately financed headquarters.

Industry sources claim that the Home Office will be wasting public money if it accepts a bid by developer Godfrey Bradman to redevelop the DETR's former home at London's Marsham Street. The sources claim that this scheme would be much more expensive than rival bids to refurbish the Home Office's existing headquarters at Queen Anne's Gate.

Rival bidders Bovis and Jarvis declined to comment, but they are understood to be aggrieved that their bids to upgrade the Home Office's existing buildings may be overlooked. Under Bradman's plan, a new building designed by Terry Farrell & Partners would be erected at Marsham Street and a deal signed for the Home Office to occupy it for 30-45 years.

Bradman satisfies Home Office

There is speculation that the Home Office favours the Bradman option because it would provide it with higher-quality offices than a refurbishment of its headquarters.

Whitehall supporters of the Marsham Street redevelopment also argue that it would provide better value for money than the refurbishment plan because it would be a lasting asset.

One said: "While there are considerable attractions to choosing the cheapest option, there are other things to be addressed. The cheapest way of doing this would be to erect a tent in the middle of a park."

But opponents of the Marsham Street redevelopment, including sources within the Treasury, say that it would tie the Home Office into an agreement that is longer than necessary.

When it first advertised for bidders for the competition in August 1996, the Home Office specified that it wanted to sign a deal for upgraded accommodation over 15 years. It is understood that the Bovis and Jarvis teams submitted deals on this basis, but that Bradman did not. The Bradman team argued that it could redevelop Marsham Street in two or three 15-year deals, one after the other.

Marsham Street expensive and risky

Another argument against the Marsham Street plan is that it would involve spending more than £50m to buy out the Home Office's Queen Anne's Gate lease from Land Securities.

One industry source said: "How does it make sense to pay out the liability for one hugely inflated rent so you can build yourself another great mausoleum like a redeveloped Marsham Street?" Opponents of the Marsham Street plan also argue that the Home Office would be taking a big risk if it chooses this path because the complex sits above a warren of bunkers and is riddled with asbestos.

Bradman's team, which includes Mace as project manager and French giant Bouygues as contractor, declined to comment. But it is understood to believe that its plan for the Home Office may win because it solves a wider problem for the government. This is that it wants to see Marsham Street, one of London's biggest eyesores, redeveloped.

The other bidders plan to use Marsham Street to house staff while the Home Office upgrade is completed, but neither plans a long-term use for the site. Bovis considered its redevelopment by architect IM Pei, but settled on a revamp of existing buildings. Its plan involves selling off surplus space to developer Regalian.

Jarvis' team includes Costain/Skanska and architect BDP.