AMBITIOUS plans for the £35m rebuild of Mid-Cheshire College’s Hartford campus are under threat after the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) imposed a freeze on all new projects nationwide.
After securing “approval in principle” from the LSC in April 2008, staff have been working hard to bring the £35m-plus project to fruition.
But the plans have now been shelved after a government investigation found the body had been continuing to approve college projects even after effectively running out of cash.
“There are more than 140 colleges across England who are currently in a state of limbo,” said John Reilly, Mid-Cheshire College principal. “We all took our proposals, in good faith, to the LSC capital committee, following the rules that they had published.
“After securing approval in principle we were then encouraged to continue investing in our projects to take them to the final stage of approval. The LSC has now told us to cease work on our Hartford rebuild.”
Mr Reilly told The Chronicle hundreds of millions of pounds had already been spent across the country and that there was a real danger the investment would be wasted if projects were eventually cancelled.
He claimed the college is now “in the dark” over the project.
“We simply don’t know when a final decision will be made,” he said. “We understand that the LSC are preparing a set of criteria that will be used to prioritise projects across the country.
“However, we also know that, without additional investment from the government, our project will not go ahead because the LSC has, it would appear, run out of money.
“Staff at the college are particularly angry that this has occurred in the same year Mid-Cheshire College was graded as an “outstanding” college by Ofsted inspectors.”
He added: “An outstanding college deserves outstanding accommodation to match its ambition.”
Construction is already under way on the college’s £10m Learning Zone in Winsford, which will not be affected by the cutbacks.
The Hartford revamp includes pulling down the existing 1950s building and four phases of reconstruction over a four-year period.
A new £3.5m arts centre was opened in October, and improved facilities for sport, beauty, forensic science, adult learning, engineering and construction are in the pipeline.