TWO sites in the town centre have been shortlisted for Swindon’s new University Technical College (UTC) – and a preferred location is expected to be announced before Christmas.

The UTC, which will specialise in engineering with business and enterprise and entrepreneurship, will be for 14 to 19 year-olds in the Swindon area who will access high-quality education and training, supported by a range of partners including local companies.

The project is now led by Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells, an international hi-tech firm that has its headquarters at Lydiard Fields, as the main business sponsor, and Oxford Brookes University as the university sponsor.

An initial list of 10 sites were reduced to five, which were looked into in more detail, including in terms of costings, and a final two have been identified to potentially become the facility through a mixture of new buildings and converting existing ones.

Paul Inman, the pro-vice chancellor at Oxford Brookes University, said a feasibility study was under way on the most promising site and a similar study would only be carried out on the other site if the first could not proceed.

He would not name any sites until one is identified as a preferred option for public consultation. But he said a town centre site was the ambition because of its proximity to transport links and the potential to support town centre regeneration.

Paul said: “We’ve come four weeks into the feasibility study. The idea is within six to eight weeks we would know where we are and all the signs are positive. As soon as we’ve got an announcement we will let you know.

“We’ve got a fallback option on that as well which we’re positive about.

“So we hope before Christmas to make an announcement of where the UTC is likely to be.

“We have a monthly project steering group where the main sponsors meet with the Department for Education.

“We have a meeting (today) to talk about the progression of the preferred site, and a design user group who meets frequently are progressing the curriculum for the skills and the education plan.”

The partners involved in the development held an employers event earlier this month at Intel, in Pipers Way, to provide an opportunity for employers in the technology and engineering sectors to find out about getting involved in the UTC, potentially helping to develop the curriculum.

Paul said: “I think one of the things we’re talking about is trying to stop that divide between employers and institutions, with employers critiquing the qualities of school leavers.”

The Government announced in May that Swindon’s UTC bid was one of 15 approved from the 27 submitted in January, and it would commit between £7m and £10m towards the project.

The team aims to open the UTC in September 2014, with a principal to be appointed by September 2013.

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