St Neots campus to close in college shake-up

THE St Neots campus of Huntingdonshire Regional College looks set to close and its students told to travel to Huntingdon.

The campus in Almond Road is at risk for the SECOND time in two years – it was first suggested in March 2010 following the collapse of the Learning and Skills Council’s funding and the withdrawal of a �50million pot of money for HRC to redevelop its campuses.

The latest closure plan could be in place as soon as September.

The college campus, which runs construction-based courses for 66 full-time students – 30 from St Neots – would move to the California Road site Huntingdon, which has just undergone a revamp.

Students would be offered free travel between the towns.

A college spokesman said: “The college has recently completed a �3million improvement programme to the California Road campus and we want St Neots learners to more fully access these facilities.”

The threat has been met with criticism by both Huntingdonshire district and St Neots town councillors, who believe the move to leave the county’s largest, and still expanding, town without a further education campus is short-sighted.

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HDC executive leader Councillor Jason Ablewhite said: “I was told about this only last week, and I’d like to think we should have been party to the discussions if this is what the college was thinking.

“As a regional college, and in light of the growth planned for St Neots over the next 20 years, a further education facility is paramount in order for Huntingdonshire Regional College to maintain its status.

“Moving all the provision to Huntingdon will make colleges in Cambridge and Bedford more attractive and puts HRC under threat.”

HRC believes the scheme, which would ultimately see the Almond Road site sold for development, is necessary to ensure students have access to a full range of learning opportunities and technologies to enable them to secure employment in the future.

College principal Susanne Stent told The Hunts Post: “No final decision has been made yet. Since plans for a new-build facility in St Neots fell through about two-and-a-half years ago the St Neots site has become run down. We want to offer the people of St Neots a broad curriculum which is fit for purpose – not just construction.”

Ms Stent said that plans were being considered for an ‘apprentice hub’ to provide a stepping stone for those not in education, employment, or training before they embarked on a full-time course at HRC. However, that is also likely to be in Huntingdon.

St Neots Mayor, Cllr Barry Chapman, called the plans “rash”.

“It is essential that we retain education facilities in St Neots,” he said. “The Almond Road site must remain designated for education and even if HRC decides to abandon St Neots, the land could be used by other more forward-looking education providers.

“I would ask HRC to engage with the county, district and town councils on our needs before making any rash decisions in isolation which are not in the interests of St Neots.”

Robert Whatmough, executive principal of Ernulf and Longsands academies in St Neots, told The Hunts Post he would be raising the issue with the St Neots Learning Partnership’s governing body.

“I very much understand why HRC needs to look at its property and how to make best use of it,” he said. “But I have some concerns about the disappearance of an FE presence in St Neots. We have young people who particularly benefit from it being local and small.”

Representatives from HDC and St Neots Town Council were to meet with the college on Monday (March 12). HRC said it hoped to put the plans before college governors on March 17 for implementation in September.