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Business leaders favour ‘Greater Birmingham’ for elite HS2 college

Business leaders favour ‘Greater Birmingham’ for elite HS2 college

🕔15.Jan 2014

Plans for an ‘elite’ engineering college to provide the skilled workforce needed to build the HS2 high speed rail scheme have been announced by the Government, signalling a bidding war from Local Enterprise Partnerships intent on securing the prized facility.

What’s being described as the first incorporated Further Education College in over 20 years will deliver the specialised training and qualifications required for HS2 and other future infrastructure projects across the country, according to Ministers.

A decision on where to locate the college is yet to be made. City council leader Sir Albert Bore was quick off the mark to put the case for Birmingham, although it quickly emerged he may face competition on his own doorstep.

The business-led Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership is interested in the engineering college, but does not necessarily favour a site in Birmingham. In a press release welcoming the Government’s announcement, GBSLEP was careful to talk about bringing the college to “Greater Birmingham” rather than the city of Birmingham.

Sir Albert, a GBSLEP board member, will be pushing to identify land in Birmingham and the vast former Alsthom/LDV site at Washwood Heath, where a high speed rail maintenance depot is planned, would appear to be an obvious location for a specialist HS2 engineering college.

However, sources close to the issue suggest that land near to the proposed HS2 interchange railway station at Birmingham Airport/NEC may be considered by GBSLEP. A case for siting the college here would be dependent on the Government indicating its support for the UK Central regeneration scheme – previously the M42 Corridor development zone.

Welcoming the Government’s announcement, Sir Albert said: “This is a really positive step in the development of HS2. With Birmingham at the centre of the high-speed network and at the crucial phase one of the development I would be keen to explore the possibility of the college being based in the city.

“Birmingham has strong academic credentials, including a world-class university, and would be the perfect home for a specialist engineering college.

“We are already working with HS2, GBSLEP and colleges and universities to make sure the city and wider region benefits from the high speed line with job and training opportunities.

“This means having the right workforce with the right skills at the right time and ensuring we create opportunities for local companies and people, and those who are currently under-represented.”

Andrew Cleaves, the GBSLEP board director with responsibility for transport, said: “Greater Birmingham has a very well-regarded technical skills base and the HS2 college would provide an excellent opportunity, provided we can present a compelling case to bring it here.

“We will sit at the heart of the national high-speed network and we are the obvious location to provide the focus for phase one of the scheme.

“Furthermore, our colleges and universities are already extremely well placed to support the development of educational programmes linked to HS2.

“Now, our job is to present to Government a business case to bring the HS2 college to Greater Birmingham.”

Transport Secretary Patrick McCloughlin said the new college would provide training in “how to make the most of cutting edge technology and use state-of-the-art equipment to deliver programmes designed specifically for the HS2 project”.

Mr McLoughlin added: “It will also build relationships with a network of affiliated facilities, including existing colleges, private training providers, higher education institutions and major supply networks off route. Learners from across the country will have opportunities to become involved and work along the line.”

HS2 Chairman David Higgins said: “This country produces some of the best engineers to be found anywhere in the world. The problem is that there aren’t enough of them, and there isn’t a long enough guaranteed work-stream to keep them here. So they tend to go overseas.

“HS2 provides us with a unique chance to address both issues. The sheer length of the project means we can offer people a rewarding career in engineering staying in this country, whilst the multiplicity of skills required means we will be equipping a new
generation with experience at the cutting edge of technology.

“HS2 gives us the chance not just to re-balance the economic geography of the country, but also our national skills base. It is an opportunity we should seize.”

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