Multi-million courts programme faces delays, Birmingham awards largest BSF contract yet, Titan prison plan on track

Firms hoping to beat the recession by targeting public sector work were dealt another blow this week as parts of the government initiative to renew the UK’s courts, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, have been placed under review.

Her Majesty’s Courts Service is understood to be conducting a 30-year strategy review, which will delay the progress of schemes currently outlining their business cases and bidding fro funding, reported Building.

The first six schemes are worth £400m and there are currently 10 schemes at planning or procurement stage. A source told the magazine that the situation is ‘very similar’ to delays affecting the Learning and Skills Council’s £5bn college building programme, under which several stalled projects have been frozen.

Catalyst Lend Lease this week has been appointed preferred bidder on the delayed £2.4bn Birmingham Building Schools for the Future scheme, beating off competition from Land Securities Trillium. Contract Journal and Building report that the deal had been delayed by the credit crunch, when Birmingham council officials demanded further evidence that CLL had access to sufficient bank funding.

The deal, the largest so far under BSF, will see it rebuild or refurbish 89 secondary schools by 2024, and it includes £1.2bn of capital works.

Building Design notes that the consortia includes a range of smaller but highly-regarded architectural practices, including DSDHA and Cottrell & Vermeulen.

Finally, Contract Journal reports that the government has defended its plans to build three huge Titan prisons, despite high-level criticism of the programme from its chief inspector of prisons last week.

In an annual report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Dame Ann Owers warned against building large prisons, saying: ‘Small prisons perform better than larger ones. This year’s inspections show that larger prisons are likely to be more unsafe and need to rely on more force.’

The Ministry of Justice responded with a strong defence of its Titan ‘cluster’ prisons. A prison service spokesman said they were essential to a modernised prison estate and would reduce reoffending.

Building’s online news service predicts that construction of the titan prisons,d esigned to hold up to 2500 prisoners, could begin as early as next year.

In response to a parliamentary question, justice minister David Hanson said: “We plan to open the first prison cluster on a phased basis from December 2012. Construction will commence around two years prior to this.”