Four architects are competing for a £45m hospital in Walsall that is to be used as a yardstick for design quality in PFI healthcare projects, writes Stuart Black.
The practices involved are Nightingale Associates, Strategic Health Care, HLM and David Morley Architects.

The initiative, launched by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and NHS Estates, is part of a campaign to improve design in the health service. The design criteria used in the successful bid may be applied to other fields as well.

The four architects will present their initial design statements next week. On the basis of these, one will be picked to develop a design brief for two blocks at Manor Hospital. The brief will be more detailed than has been the case in PFI schemes up to now.

The project will provide 1800 m2 of space for the hospital, which is on the outskirts of Walsall in the West Midlands.

There has been a feeling that you can lose control of quality in PFI. The new project will mean putting design up front

Mike Stevens, deputy chief executive, Walsall NHS Trust

Stephen King, head of public affairs at CABE, said the initiative was aimed at establishing a minimum level of design quality, rather than producing "a template to go and build everywhere".

Mike Stevens, Walsall NHS Trust's deputy chief executive, said the scheme was a response to concern that PFI procurement tended to degrade architectural standards. He said: "There has been a feeling that you can lose control of quality in a PFI. In the past, PFI projects have given a free reign to the building firms because all the trusts do is specify outputs. The new project will mean putting design up front."

He added that this could mean that the designs diverged from the best value recommendations set out in the public sector comparator, the method used to assess the value for money of PFI procurement.