Decision on Paston College move put off

A £23m relocation of North Norfolk's sixth form college was a “make-or-break” decision for the historic seat of learning, said its principal in an impassioned plea to planners.

A £23m relocation of North Norfolk's sixth form college was a “make-or-break” decision for the historic seat of learning, said its principal in an impassioned plea to planners.

But a final decision on the project has been put off for a month by North Norfolk District Council's east area development control committee in a bid to resolve concerns including the impact on traffic, privacy of local residents and design.

The decision was a “momentous” one for Paston College, its home town of North Walsham, as well as the surrounding district, and any delay could be “terminal” college chief Peter Mayne warned a meeting of the committee.

The current split site had 13 different buildings, 10 different heating systems and its shortcomings had been highlighted in inspections reports ever since the 1950s.

Relocation was essential to secure Paston's future, and any delay in investment could be terminal, said Mr Mayne.

He added the 400-year-old college, which has links to Lord Nelson's schooling, was prospering thanks to brave and radical decisions at critical moments in the past.

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“Paston needs to grow to survive. Unless we can attract investment we will go into decline as other colleges improve their buildings,” he said. Councillors heard there were 97 letters and petitions with 361 names against the plans, and 19 letters of support of the plans, which are for a three-storey complex off Station Road, on a Paston-owned playing field next to the Victory pool.

Planning officer Tracey Armitage said traffic remained the biggest issue, but that suggested junction and footpath improvements under discussion should overcome highways officials' concerns.

The council's economic development department said the college expansion was important in raising aspirations and abilities in a part of the county where incomes and basic numeracy and literacy were low.

But conservation and design manager Phil Godwin admitted he was “torn” over the design, which ticked all the right government boxes for sustainability and efficiency but was felt to have a “sober and corporate” feel without any “joyfulness” or distinctive local character, though he admitted it was not possible to put a “red pantile roof” on such a large building.

Objectors told the meeting of the need for farther reaching measures to improve the nearby road network which was narrow and carried a mix of residential and lorry traffic. And student Victoria Marshall doubted if a similar-sized business office block would be allowed on the open site.

Local member Eric Seward said people wanted the college to stay and be successful but remained to be convinced it had to move rather than be refurbished.

Barbara McGoun said the town was badly in need of an injection of prosperity but felt the boxy, glass fronted design looked like a 1960s high school.

And Michael Baker said efforts were being made to retain two dead trees on the site for bats to roost in, while the scheme ignored the “legions of humans living in that area condemned to a miserable life.”

The committee deferred a decision, probably until its next meeting on December 18, to negotiate issues including traffic, design and layout of the site, shared access with the next door pool, and guaranteed public use of the sports facilities.