Paston College rebuild plans put off

A �23m rebuild of north Norfolk's sixth form college has been delayed because of a national funding shortage.But Paston College bosses say they are not 'over pessimistic' and still feel the vision of a new college will happen - even if it has to wait for a year or two.

A �23m rebuild of north Norfolk's sixth form college has been delayed because of a national funding shortage.

But Paston College bosses say they are not 'over pessimistic' and still feel the vision of a new college will happen - even if it has to wait for a year or two.

Every college in the region was set for a big scheme - from new blocks to a complete rebuild - as part of a multi-billion-pound nationwide overhaul of further education facilities.

Now ministers have admitted the money has run out - forcing colleges to disappoint current and future students by putting their projects back by up to three years, or even longer.


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And there have been scathing attacks on the 'catalogue of incompetence' by the government quango, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in charge of the money pot.

The Paston move from its twin town centre sites to a greenfield complex next to the Victory pool has already had its fair share of controversy.

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People living near the new site were concerned about the impact of extra traffic on residential roads, while traders feared the shift would take students away from already hard-pressed town centre shops.

College bosses spirits rose however when planners gave the scheme the go-ahead. But the funding blow has thrown up a new obstacle.

Paston vice-principal Tim Ellen said they had spent �500,000 so far on architects' fees, half of which came from the LSC and half from their own funds, but it was money invested in the future as it had resulted in designs and planning permission.

Paston's outline business case was lodged with LSC but not yet approved having been caught up in the backlog and review. They were expecting to find out more within weeks.

Delay was inevitable - with the hoped for 2011 opening now likely to be summer 2012 if approval came through quickly. But it was likely to be longer and could stretch to "one two or three" years.

However they were "not over pessimistic" because they still had a vision for a new college in north Norfolk which would happen at some stage. In the meantime they would look at making minor improvements to the current split site and could look at phasing new sports facilities earlier than anticipated.

Across England 144 projects are on hold because of the cash crisis.

Further education minister Sion Simon said the situation was 'not acceptable' and the programme had not been managed properly. The former head of the Audit Commission, Sir Andrew Foster, was continuing to investigate what went wrong.

Shadow universities and skills secretary David Willetts said: 'These projects are needed because they're supposed to be providing training for people during the recession, but now they are all at a standstill because of this mismanagement.

'It is a quite extraordinary catalogue of incompetence. They were being actively encouraged by ministers and by the LSC to go ahead with these programmes.'

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