Fears over Paston College plans to move

A college's plan to uproot from its historic town centre home, which has links to Lord Nelson, has sparked an 11th hour mutiny among some local folk and students.

A college's plan to uproot from its historic town centre home, which has links to Lord Nelson, has sparked an 11th hour mutiny among some local folk and students.

Paston College wants to relocate to a new £23m edge-of-town site so it can expand and educate students in a purpose-built complex, rather than a split campus in the centre parts of which date back 400 years.

But just days ahead of a deadline for comments to planners, a public meeting at the weekend saw more than 100 people turn out to vent their fears.

Some were concerned about the switch's impact on the vitality of the town centre, where traders get custom from the 680 students from all over North Norfolk.

Others were residents near the new Station Road site, worried about being overlooked by the three-storey college building, the effect of extra traffic on a residential area already suffering through traffic from lorries avoiding low bridges, and overspill parking in the streets.

And some students said they enjoyed the atmosphere of the smaller, more historic college, which set it apart from the bigger modern campus of City College at Norwich.

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Vice-principal Tim Ellen last night said 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 had reached capacity, needed to move to expand to 1,000 students and had been looking at options over several years.

It was a good neighbour to the town, and felt the old sites presented “great opportunities” for North Walsham.

Adaptation of the current sites, which included listed buildings and protected trees had been ruled out, the meeting heard. The college needed to grow by 50pc to survive and the new site provided better security, parking and sports facilities.

Governor Liz Cornwall said: “It is lovely to sit in a listed building but we are in the 21st century.” The historic buildings would not be lost to the town as they were protected by planning restrictions, she assured.

But local resident Rob Knee said people did not want the college to move from its much-loved site. Hundreds of people had voiced opposition on a petition and internet site, including shopkeepers, residents and students.

It was wrong to replace the current historic vita with a characterless enormous box, and there were worries about what would happen with the old sites.

County councillor Peter Moore said he supported the opponents more than the college, because of concerns about the vitality of the town centre, and traffic near the new site, which was already “hell” during school run times.

Parent Spencer Shaw said: “You will lose a lot of heritage, and once it has gone you will never get it back. My son who is a student there, finds it an inspiring environment which you won't get in a new build.”

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.

The deadline for comments to North Norfolk District Council, which will make the planning decision, is tomorrow .