Construction college needs 'millions'

RICHARD PARR Millions of pounds of external funding are needed to safeguard the Norfolk base of Europe's largest specialist training base for construction workers, it was claimed last night.

RICHARD PARR

Millions of pounds of external funding are needed to safeguard the Norfolk base of Europe's largest specialist training base for construction workers, it was claimed last night.

The warning-shot came from Andy Walder, acting chief of the National Construction College at Bircham Newton, near Fakenham, after board members met to consider the long-term future of the college.

A question mark hangs over the site's viability after efforts to raise £15m for modernisation by selling surplus land for housing were thrown out by planners and an appeal failed at a public inquiry .

Mr Walder told the EDP the long-term future of the Bircham Newton site, one of the area's largest employers, hinged on securing millions of pounds of external funding to finance the major modernisation.

“Currently all avenues are being explored. Without the additional funding closure or relocation of some parts of the Norfolk site will be a real possibility,” he said.

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He added: “Without any form of external funding we would be looking at closure options already presented to the board. These are not options the Board or the industry wants, as they will compromise the specialist training provision, but they would be the reality if funding discussions prove unsuccessful.”

The Board has agreed to the new intake of 300-plus apprentices who will begin two-year courses at Bircham Newton in September.

Progress on the funding issue will be reviewed in July and the Board expects to make a “final decision” by the end of the year.

Board members agreed it was important to retain the core of “non-transferable training” (such as tower cranes and heavy earth moving plant).

But an option would be for other forms of training to be located elsewhere.

Mr Walder said talks were continuing with the government's Learning and Skills Council and managers were to meet again with the LSC next week.

“We are looking at all the options open to us and we are not prepared to be rushed into a decision. We expect to have a series of meetings with the LSC officials and this likely to take some months,” he said.