Fresh hope for building-training centre

Fears that East Anglia could lose the base of Europe's largest specialist training centre for construction were eased last night.

Fears that East Anglia could lose the base of Europe's largest specialist training centre for construction were eased last night.

The future of the National Construction College, at Bircham Newton in west Norfolk, has remained uncertain for some months after a series of planning wrangles and pleas to the government for more funding.

But now, after lengthy funding negotiations with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the government agency responsible for educating people aged 16 and over, fresh hope has emerged that the college is safe.

While closure of the complex has not yet been totally ruled out, the long-term future appears much brighter.

David Boyden, director of the National Construction College (NCC), said: "We have been providing specialist training for over 40 years now. We are an industry asset.

"Under our latest proposals we would deliver high-quality specialist training that cannot be delivered at project or regional level, as well as being the regional hub for the east.

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"We are also in talks about expanding further hubs. Our priority is east London."

The new plans, if carried out, would see the centre remain open, but only to deal with very specialist training which, due to the highly skilled teachers required, would attract pupils from across the country, such as heavy plant or tower crane training.

Meanwhile, other training such as light plant, scaffolding and access systems, and roofing would be delivered away from the site at a series of sites and colleges across the country.

The college is due to submit its application for the funding next week and while the full amount of money being applied for is not known, it will be October before it is revealed whether the bid has been successful or not.

Problems first arose in 2006, when, in a bid to raise £15m for a much-needed modernisation, the college's hopes to sell surplus land for housing were thrown out by planners and an appeal failed at a public inquiry.

The then acting chief of the NCC, Andy Walder, said unless millions of pounds of external funding was found, the site, one of the area's largest employers would be forced to scale back.

There was also an appeal to the government to splash out on getting the centre up to scratch.

It was hoped with this latest development, employees and local businesses could breathe a sigh of relief over the threatened closure.

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