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Construction National blog: 25/05/2012

Construction National blog logoThe main construction news of the week happened on 24 May, when Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that 261 schools would receive funding for rebuilding programmes under the Priority Schools Building Programme, out of 587 that applied. A total of £2bn has been allocated to the scheme over the next five years. It replaces the last government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, which aimed to rebuild or replace every secondary school in England. That would have cost £55bn.

Naturally, as with every competitive arrangement of this nature there were some who were delighted, but more who were outraged. The leader of Sandwell Council in the West Midlands was scathing about the fact that only three of its 17 applications had been successful, describing the scheme as "...a half-hearted botch job which will impact on young kids in a deprived area."

The description of the scheme as the 'Priority Schools Building Programme' rings a bit hollow when you consider that the announcement should have been made in December last year.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "This delay exposes the incompetence that has marred the education secretary's handling of schools capital, since his scrapping of the BSF programme." His words.

The question arises of how these schools became so much of a priority in the first place. Having the original scheme scrapped with nothing to replace it for two years didn't help. While the desire to replace every secondary school may have been ambitious, at least it recognised the fact that, particularly in a world of exponential development and 'accelerating acceleration', there will be a need for continuous replacement of educational establishments. I was educated at a primary school that dated for Victorian times and progressed to a 1960s-built grammar school (that was in the 1960s, so it was new – that is my point).

Two principals from the ecclesiastical and heritage world seem apposite here. One is the system of quinquennial inspections for churches, so repair and maintenance can be planned. The other, famously expounded by Ruskin in 1849, is that maintenance is better than repair – or, as the organisation Maintain has it, prevention is better than cure.

Mr Gove recognised both of these principals in his announcement on 24 May, when he declared: "By next autumn we will have details about the condition of every school in the country. Information on the condition of all schools was last collated centrally in 2005."

Now, was that one of the famous messes this Government goes banging on about having inherited?

Other than the schools programme, there have been a number of major transport infrastructure projects among the construction news stories in the past couple of weeks. The biggest of these projects is Crossrail. On 11 May the first trainload of material excavated from its tunnels was delivered to Northfleet in Kent. There it will be used by the RSPB to create a new nature reserve. That kind of imaginative use of construction waste has to be applauded.

Chris Stokes