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Government pledges £400m for college rebuild programme

Vince Cable has announced more than £400million worth of investment in college construction work which will lead to 56 colleges going ahead with redevelopment or refurbishment work

The new funding round will ensure the education projects open their doors by September 2014.

Speaking at the Association of Colleges conference last week, the business secretary said: ‘These projects will transform the learning environment for thousands of students across the country, providing them with state of the art facilities and modern resources that will help them fulfil their potential.’

The funding pot totals £412million, of which £110million is coming from the government via the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the remaining £302million has been raised by the colleges themselves.

The latest cash injection is the third phase of the Enhanced Renewal Grant (ERG3) which allowed further education colleges to compete for up to £3million in funds each.

Projects going ahead include the £42million development of a new town centre campus for South Essex College of Further and Higher Education, a £9.4million redevelopment and refurbishment of Northumberland College and the £5.7million construction of a new hospitality and catering academy at South Thames College.

However, the investment offered by the Skills Funding Agency falls far short of that promised by its predecessor, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which was closed in 2010 due to financial mismanagement. At the height of the debacle, 144 projects were stalled with close to £2million in architects’ fees at risk.

Before the LSC was closed, some ‘shovel-ready’ schemes were pushed through. According to a representative at the Association of Colleges, the remaining projects were subsequently reengineered or built on a smaller scale, and the recipients of last week’s ERG3 funds are a ‘distinct and new tranche of projects’.

While the ERG3 investment has been generally welcomed, there are concerns that the smaller scale of the investment may not provide long term solutions.

ADP Architects designed four of the projects which have received SFA funding, including the £8.8m refurbishment of Barking and Dagenham College’s science facilities and the £6million refurbishment at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College.

Roger FitzGerald, chair of ADP said: ‘We are fortunate enough to be working on some of the projects to have received funding. The nature of the projects is that they are of a much smaller scale than were coming through two or three years ago – typically they are modest extensions, refurbishments and re-organising internal spaces.

The LSC funding was extravagant - now the funding amounts are much tighter

He added: ‘It seems we have gone from one extreme to another. The LSC framework funding was pretty extravagant. Now the funding amounts are much tighter, and it is all about getting the best value out of every penny. Just like with schools projects, the danger if the funding is too tight, that we create buildings that don’t have the inbuilt future-proofing and flexibility… which means they won’t actually offer good value in the longer term.’

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