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Clash of interests over college plan

PUBLISHED: 16:17 29 October 2008 | UPDATED: 09:13 13 July 2010

PASTON College has failed to win the backing of town councillors for a planned move from its 400-year-old home in the heart of North Walsham.

Members are demanding more information on four key areas of concern and voted to object to the college's application until they have satisfactory answers.

PASTON College has failed to win the backing of town councillors for a planned move from its 400-year-old home in the heart of North Walsham.

Members are demanding more information on four key areas of concern and voted to object to the college's application until they have satisfactory answers.

Their decision, taken at a council meeting on Tuesday, followed a packed public meeting last week about the controversial plan, which would see a £23m new college built on the edge of town, beside the Victory swimming pool.

College chiefs are adamant that Paston must expand to survive, and educate up to 50pc more than the current 680 students in an energy-saving, high-tech complex.

They have ruled out adapting its present split campus at the Lawns and historic Griffons site, where Lord Nelson was once a schoolboy, partly because of difficulties caused by listed buildings and protected trees.

But councillors are insisting on more details about:

·Traffic problems and pedestrian safety in and around Station Road.

·Loss of privacy to homes neighbouring the proposed three-storey college.

·The economic impact of the move on the town centre, currently boosted by crowds of Paston students.

·Community use of the proposed new college sports facilities.

The town council's views will carry weight with North Norfolk District Council planners who will make the final decision. They are due to visit the site on November 13.

“The value of Paston College is recognised. It's very successful and we want to keep it in North Walsham but it's difficult to make a final decision without knowing the answers to these questions, with several matters still outstanding,” said town councillor Eric Seward.

The county council's highways department had only issued an interim report on traffic concerns, the district council was still consulting about the impact on the town's economy, and the proposed site was designated open land which meant it should only be developed if alternative recreational use was provided, said Mr Seward. But there was still no information about whether the public would have access to the new sports facilities.

Two Station Road residents used a public slot before the meeting to make impassioned pleas for and against the application.

Former town councillor Keith Dixon, who has taught in several colleges, warned that Paston would be at a huge disadvantage if it missed the “one-off window of opportunity” of using Learning and Skills Council funding to rebuild, as many colleges around the country had already done.

He added: “My greatest fear is that if Paston don't get the go-ahead to build in North Walsham they will look elsewhere - we'll have a Henry Blogg College in Cromer instead.”

But Dr Rob Knee, an educational consultant, said nearly 450 current and former Paston students had registered their opposition to the plan on a Face Book site, and over 500 people had signed protest petitions.

“People are not against the college - far from it. They just do not wish a much-loved, historic vista and a greatly appreciated and precious green space to go under concrete,” said Dr Knee.

Mary Seward told fellow town councillors that they could not take into consideration the fate of the present college buildings: “Sadly, at the moment we don't have two applications. I know that's hard for people, but we have to deal with this application on its own,” she said.

Dr Knee was the driving force behind last Friday's public meeting, attended by more than 100 people, including concerned neighbours of the new college, and Paston students past and present.

Many feared extra traffic in a residential area already suffering lorries avoiding low bridges, and overspill parking in the streets by motorists unable to find space at the 140-slot car park planned at the new college.

Paston student Alicia Morton, said: “It's such a beautiful college, compared to somewhere like City College in Norwich which is so big, with so many people. I've sold the idea about it being a homely place so much to people who are prospective students.”

Vice-principal Tim Ellen said after the public meeting that the college was aware of the concerns through earlier consultations, and had made some changes as a result, but he felt the fears were unfounded.

The college was a good neighbour to the town, and he believed the old sites presented “great opportunities” for North Walsham.

Principal Peter Mayne said that as an historian he was very loathe to move out, but it was needed to progress the college's achievements, adding: “The reason Paston is still here after 400 years is because it has changed.”

MP Norman Lamb said it was clear there a clash of interests between the ambition of the college, which was a place of excellence, and the anxiety of some local people. There was a need to make the right decision for both the college and the town.


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