Council to ask an architect to review options and produce an alternative for the controversial project.
Westminster council is set to appoint a new architect to draw up fresh options for Pimlico School, throwing plans for a private finance initiative rebuilding into doubt.

The council and Pimlico governors are due to meet today to select an architect from a shortlist of eight practices. The winner will be asked to reconsider the options and produce a costed alternative to the PFI proposal before the end of November.

“The architects will be looking at alternative solutions,” said Europe Singh, chair of Pimlico School’s governing board. “This is something that should have been done right at the beginning of the process.

“It might be a non-PFI solution, or it might find that the PFI scheme is viable.” The rethink comes after a string of problems with the PFI scheme, which was launched five years ago and was intended to serve as a model for school improvements around the country.

As Building revealed in August, the scheme was rocked when the European Commission claimed that the £50m PFI procurement route broke European rules. If the commission establishes that the rules were broken, it could force Westminster council to retender the project.

The study might recommend a non-PFI solution, or find the PFI scheme is viable

Europe Singh, Chair, Pimlico Governors

A council spokeswoman said the ruling was a matter for the Treasury rather than the council, saying: “PFI is still one of the processes being looked at for Pimlico.” She added: “The Treasury is using Pimlico as a test case. If the commission ruling was an issue, it would affect PFI as a whole rather than Westminster specifically.” The eight architects shortlisted by the council are Hawkins/Brown, Bisset Adams, Buschow Henley, Hunter & Partners, WS Atkins, Feilden Clegg Bradley and Shepheard Epstein Hunter Cullinan & Buck.

The designers have been briefed to consider options including a phased refurbishment of the existing building, and replacing the proposed private housing on school land with community facilities.

The original PFI scheme, which was won in July 1998 by a consortium made up of Kier, Costain, Tilbury Douglas, St George and architect Ellis Williams, involved the demolition of John Bancroft’s iconic 1970 school building and the construction of private housing on part of the playground.