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£8m Nottinghamshire college plans ‘at risk’ after councillors’ delays

A Nottinghamshire college boss told councillors their delay on a decision for a major campus redevelopment has put the project “at massive risk”.

Andrew Cropley, chief executive of Vision West Nottinghamshire College, spoke from the public gallery at Mansfield District Council’s planning committee after the panel deferred plans for the Chesterfield Road Campus.

The committee met on Monday (July 31) to debate the proposals for the ‘inadequate’ former School of Art site and alterations to the historic Ashfield House building.

The Chesterfield Road campus. Credit Vision West Nottinghamshire College

The authority’s planning department had recommended approval for the multi-million-pound project, of which the council itself is a major partner.

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However, councillors delayed making a decision on the plans over concerns about the impact it could have on the Westgate Conservation Area.

Both buildings sit within the area and members of the committee feared any alterations could impact upon the historic setting.

An artists impression of the new education facility at West Notts Colleges Chesterfield Road campus. Credit WNC and Ellis Williams.

They asked for a site visit to take place including all members of the committee to help them determine whether the plans should go ahead.

In the meeting, Cllr Jack Stephenson (Lab), who represents Market Warsop, moved the deferral and site visit and confirmed it’s because “visual assessment is necessary”.

He said: “Some of the debate is regards to the building itself. It’s a good-looking building and there are concerns it’s going to be knocked down in a conservation area.

“Everyone seems apprehensive to go ahead with this because of that, so I think it would be wise to have a site visit so we can see it for ourselves.”

This was backed by the committee and a visit will be held in the coming weeks.

However, it led to Mr Cropley airing his concerns to the chamber.

Speaking from the public gallery, he said: “This is going to put this project at massive risk.

“[The college campus is] 300 metres away [from the Civic Centre] and it’s still daylight. I will personally host you there tomorrow morning.”

After the decision was made, he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the project was already at risk due to previous delays in the planning process.

He said a press release – written in partnership with the Labour-run authority – had already been prepared celebrating the project’s approval.

But now the plans, which will cost about £8.86m including £4.3m from the council’s Towns Fund pot, must wait until the next committee meeting.

This could happen sooner than the usual four-week period, with Cllr Andy Wetton (Lab), the committee chairman, saying: “We’ll possibly call an extra meeting because of the deadlines.”

The wider plans would see the derelict School of Art building, which was vacated by the college in 2014, demolished in favour of a new education space.

The two-floor facility would bring a T-levels centre – focusing on vocational courses and helping people into skilled work – on the lower floor.

A library, toilets, a ‘circulation space’, a plant room, 10 classrooms and other additional teaching rooms are also promised.

Parts of the building’s connections to the historic Ashfield House building, which would be retained, as well as extensions to the building itself, would also be demolished.

The college says the existing facilities are “not fit for purpose” and the new buildings would represent a “multi-million-pound investment” in Mansfield.

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Speaking before the decision was made, Mr Cropley said the district has some “significant challenges” including low productivity, low wages and a skills gap.

He said: “This is the single biggest project in the Mansfield improvement plan and will play a key element in providing the skills to enable businesses to grow and people to secure good levels of income.

“Through the support of the college and Nottingham Trent University, it will enable businesses to grow, become more competitive and offer local people better jobs.”

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