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NATIONAL FIRST FOR KINGSTON UPON HULL'S PIONEERING PFI SCHOOL

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A new primary school at Victoria Dock is set to score a national first when it opens its doors to pupils in January...
A new primary school at Victoria Dock is set to score a national first when it opens its doors to pupils in January 1999.

The school will be the first in the country funded under the private finance initiative to open for business, following negotiations between Kingston upon Hull City Council and Sewell Construction plc which culminated in the signing of contracts this week.

The opening of the school will mark a major step forward in the transformation of the Victoria Dock area from derelict dockland to urban village.

Parents have been campaigning for their own village school so that children would not have to cross one of the city's busiest highways, a major freight route to Europe via the city's eastern docks. Gordon Rason, chair of the Victoria Dock Residents Association said: 'The road is extremely dangerous for parents with small children to cross, with heavy lorries as well as cars going to and from the ferry. The new school will change that, with children able to walk safely to their own village school.'

The school will be designed, built, financed and operated by Sewell Construction with the council paying an annual charge. Sewell will maintain it and run the building day-to-day, leaving the teaching staff to get on with the business of education.

The city council has pioneered the building of the school under the Private Finance Initiative. Education committee chair Mima Bell said: 'The scheme proves that PFI can work for small projects and not just for major schemes such as hospitals and roads. It opens up the possibility of more projects in the future where, left to its own resources, the city council could not afford to respond to changing needs. Kingston upon Hull has provided a model for others to follow.'

Chief financial officer Michael Price said: 'This project is another demonstration of the city council's commitment to financial innovation in delivering services to its citizens. We were a front-runner with the North Hull Housing Action Trust and with our partnership approach to the Single Regeneration Budget. Our experiences in carrying it forward and lessons we have learned will be a good basis on which to build future PFI initiatives.

'We would emphasise the importance of selecting a private sector partner who sees PFI projects as long term, real commitments. Building the school is just the beginning. Now the city council and Sewell have to establish a real partnership over 25 years to make it work.'

Sewells became the preferred bidder after an extensive evaluation exercise by the city council and this started a long and complex negotiation to ensure the many diverse interests were balanced. All negotiations were overseen by the department for education and employment which had to be fully satisfied that the local authority was getting value for money.

Managing director Paul Sewell said: 'The big projects will always get done by the large multinationals and commercial concerns but it's the smaller schemes such as the primary school, provided by local companies, which will be the real proving ground for PFI. It is wonderful for medium sized companies that we have proved it can be done.'

Sewell used innovative virtual reality computer technology to help design the school. Council officials have already had a 'fly' around the site, driven up to the front entrance and walked through classrooms, whilst helping to choose bricks, tiles, colour and carpets. Now prospective parents and children will be given the same chance to view their new school before a brick is laid during open sessions in the local community centre.

Paul Sewell added: 'This will be the start of a close and active involvement by us in many aspects of school life. We aim to be totally involved not just in maintaining the school but in the life of the local community over the next 25 years.'

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