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Last updateThu, 16 Jun 2022 8am

How much open space do you need in a public building? Enough, it seems, to save a concrete plant

Construction National blog logoI commented at some length recently (5 July) about the announcement of the Priority Schools Building Programme, the £2bn scheme to keep at least some schools functioning which replaced the Building Schools for the Future programme aimed at replacing all secondary schools.

The most recent news about the scheme, to be found elsewhere on the Construction National site, is that the original cost of the scheme, which was to be £2.4bn of which £2bn would be via a Private Finance Initiative, is to be reduced by nearly £700m.

The savings, from the PFI part of the programme, will be made by applying a new design standard resulting in a review of the cost per square metre. According to the Education Funding Agency, that would not result in "smaller classrooms becoming more acceptable".

Could this be a historic first – government actually being concerned with the real cost of providing public buildings? While making proud civic statements has been and no doubt will continue to be a venerable tradition, the fact is that not EVERY public sector premises need great swathes of open space.

My wife and I recently had cause to visit the new health 'hub' in the nearby town – a large slab of a building. The entrance hall is reminiscent of a ticket hall on the Moscow Underground or a cathedral. Tucked away in a corner of the vast open space – big enough, as my wife remarked, to house an entire intensive care unit (she is a former hospital sister) – is a desk, from which visitors are directed to the actual working part of the building. It includes a tiny waiting room where the chairs are so close together people trip over each other. The facility, with its acres of wasted opportunity, replaces an actual hospital which, to be fair, never did sport an ICU or an A&E. For those you have to travel 10 miles or so.

On Saturday (13 October) the winner of this year's Stirling Prize will be announced in Manchester. The award is the biggest event in this country's architectural calendar – William Hill even run a book on it – so it's great to see the awards 'bash' in the North West. There has been some furious lobbying (the Concrete Society are plugging the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge, for obvious reasons) and the result is anxiously awaited. Watch this space.

And finally (always wanted to say that), some welcome good news. According to the construction news press, the Bison Concrete Products plant near Falkirk has been saved from closure and redundancies at its main operation in Derbyshire will be more than halved. That follows the announcement of two major new supply wins for the company for schools in Hull and Essex.

Chris Stokes