Training centre loses homes fight

Europe's largest construction training provider is facing an uncertain future after losing an appeal over plans for 250 new homes.

Europe's largest construction training provider is facing an uncertain future after losing an appeal over plans for 250 new homes.

The National Construction College East appealed against a decision by King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council to refuse permission for a major redevelopment of its facilities and the residential development on its site at Bircham Newton, near Fakenham.

But in a 40-page report following a public inquiry in September, government inspector Terry Phillimore ruled the scale of the development was not justified.

The former RAF site - also home to the CITB-Construction Skills headquarters, formerly the Construction Industry Training Board - is set in 182 hectares of land, 16.3 ha of which formed the application site.

The college argued it was probably the largest training facility of its type in the world, one of West Norfolk's largest employers and an integral part of the community for the past 40 years and said it needed to build a state-of-the-art campus with new student accommodation, reception centre, swimming pool and sports and leisure facilities. The only way to fund improvements would be to sell land for development.

It said that if the plans were refused there was real chance the college could be closed with a severe negative impact on the construction industry.

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Andy Walder, the college's marketing manager, said: “Though it would be unfair to speculate too widely about its future before the next board meeting in February, closure of parts of the facility is now a real possibility. This may result in job losses, but it will take time before we arrive at a definite solution or give concrete answers.”

During the inquiry Mr Phillimore heard there was opposition to the plans from the local community which submitted a 742 signature petition concerned at the impact 250 homes would have on the local infrastructure.

Henry Bellingham, North West Norfolk MP, said he could not support the development because it was such a huge departure from the Local Plan and out of scale with the existing development. He suggested a proposal of around 100 new homes.

Support for the plans came from businesses and trade associations, referring to the economic and employment benefits of the college and the adverse consequences of its closure, four local schools which use the facilities and a petition of 839 signatures in support.

Mr Phillimore concluded: “I accept the desire to be able to offer a good standard of residential and leisure provision, and the potential risks of refusing permission in terms of the future of the centre need to be recognised, but in my assessment the scale of the proposed development has not been justified.”

Mr Walder said the news was “a huge blow to the industry, the region, the local economy and local communities”.

He said: “We must consider all our options. The report does not reject the argument that development may be needed to continue to carry out college works. Therefore before we consider options such as scaling down our operations at NCC East or transferring to other sites, or even delivering training in a different way, we need to gain a full understanding of the reports recommendations.”