Historic site could have future as university technical college
8:00am Tuesday 29th January 2013 in Latest News
AN HISTORIC site in Swindon’s railway heartland has been identified as the preferred location for a £10m university technical college (UTC).
UTC Swindon, which would specialise in engineering with business and enterprise and entrepreneurship, would be for 14 to 19 year-olds in the Swindon area who would access high-quality education and training, supported by a range of partners including local companies.
The project, kick-started by Swindon Council, 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.
After whittling down an initial list of about eight possible sites, of which about five or six were visited for further study, the project board steering group has today announced the Mill Site, off Bristol Street, as the preferred location.
It would incorporate buildings at the most westerly extent of the estate currently owned by Network Rail and if it gets the go ahead it would include the use of the old school building, the mill building and fire station yard, with the retention of the historic water tower.
A final decision on this location, which has already been subject to a buildings feasibility study, will depend on lease negotiations and final approval of Government funding, plus a statutory Department for Transport consultation about use of railway property.
Paul Inman, pro vice chancellor at Oxford Brookes University, said the site was chosen not just because of the link to Swindon’s engineering past but also because the team wanted a site which could be easily reached by foot or public transport from an 18-mile catchment area.
He said: “We are delighted to be announcing our preferred site for UTC Swindon on a location of such historical significance.
“UTC Swindon is a leading-edge educational initiative, which will offer a 14 – 19 curriculum devised by a leading vocational university and a premier league engineering company. It will be a game changer for technical education in the UK.
“What’s particularly exciting about the project is the groundswell of local support for its success. We have been inundated with offers from local and national companies and individuals wanting to contribute in whatever way they can. It is very much a team effort, backed up by cross party support and seed funding from Swindon Borough Council.”
A six-week public consultation, as required by the process of development of a UTC, will begin in February.
Two companies, yet to be announced, have already produced alternative initial ideas for the building’s design, based on the broad principle of converting the old buildings and adding glass extensions.
If all goes to the plan, a planning application will be submitted in March to enable building to be complete for a September 2014 opening.
Paul Holmes, of Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells, said: “If this site can get the go ahead it would be a fantastic opportunity to create a careful blend of restored historic and new iconic buildings in the heart of Swindon’s industrial heritage.
“It will offer a new and innovative way of learning and delivering a curriculum developed by employers in the real world engineering workplace.
“A lot of hard work has gone into getting the project to this stage, but there is still much work to be done to finalise the site.”
Coun David Renard, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, added: "I am so impressed by how well all partners are working together to ensure the UTC Swindon becomes a reality and a success.
“The proposed location will not only be easy for students to access but will also breathe new life into part of our heritage.”