Go back to college plans
I would like to express my support for the intervention by Lib Dem Peer Lady Beith on behalf of the youth of Berwick-Upon-Tweed in her request for better access to Further Education.
As she rightly points out, the nearest FE college is over 50 miles away, and requires a four-hour round trip.
The lack of FE facilities has long been highlighted as a major cause of our weak economic performance, and the resultant lack of employment opportunities and inward investment.
The Berwick Futures Partnership, established by One North East and supported by the former borough council and Northumberland County Council, included in its master plan the Berwick Eastern Arc Area Action Plan, a commitment to provide facilities for education and skills in Walkergate.
The Kwik Save building was specifically purchased for the purpose of constructing that facility. Northumberland College was part of those discussions, and the delivery of a centre for education and skills was an active policy within Northumberland County Council as recently as 2013.
The reason that it did not get on site was due to the abolition of the Learning and Skills Council by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition in 2010. It also abolished One North East and central government seized all its assets, including the Kwik Save site.
When the county council purchased Kwik Save from the Homes and Community Agency for £300,000, it gave us some short-lived hope as it re-opened the chance of delivering Berwick’s long awaited college.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone at County Hall that there was widespread disgust across all political parties in Berwick and residents that instead of giving us a college, the proposal was for offices.
County council planners are recommending that there is a total ban on all new office development in Berwick in the Core Strategy evidence base.
The only credible defence for this unwanted development, which will damage our local economy, is that no other ‘fully funded scheme’ came forward.
Yet the whole Kwik Save project is being funded by a loan of in excess of £3.5million given to Arch by Northumberland County Council. Which brings me back to Lady Beith.
Berwick, Spittalland Tweedmouth are represented at County Hall by three Lib Dem county councillors. No political party can claim any honours here. The Tories and Lib Dems abolished the Learning and Skills Council and One North East, the Labour Party (of which I am a member) reneged on the policy commitment to give us a college and has failed to listen to local opinion.
However, policies can change, and that is in the hands of our county councillors. Yet all have been silent on this significant issue, apart from Coun Gavin Jones, who has consistently supported the construction of offices instead of a college. They can all still intervene at policy level even now. We have the money to do it – it was given to Arch and needs to be taken back.