A tendering exercise to appoint a firm to build the £84 million Bournville College at Longbridge is continuing even though a Government inquiry concluded that severe financial problems mean the project is unlikely to proceed.
Developers St Modwen, responsible for transforming 468 acres of south Birmingham, including the former MG Rover works, says it is convinced the 220,000 sq ft complex will still be built despite a cash crisis at the Learning and Skills Council.
Earlier this month former Audit Commission chief executive Sir Andrew Foster claimed there was “very little chance” that Bournville and 15 other West Midlands college expansion schemes would go ahead after the LSC over-committed its budget by £400 million.
A final decision is unlikely to be made by the Government for several months, casting doubt over a key element of the £700 million Longbridge development.
Bournville College is regarded as an essential element of the new-look Longbridge, providing a modern building whose construction will provide new jobs in the short term and new opportunities for quality skills training in an area afflicted by high unemployment.
The rest of the scheme, which will take 15 years to complete, includes 2,000 new homes, parks, a new town centre for Longbridge, a technology park, industrial and commercial development, and is set to create 10,000 jobs.
Mike Murray, senior development manager at St Modwen, said: “As far as the college is concerned we are still progressing in terms of pulling the site together. We are currently out to tender on construction.
“Planning permission has been secured and the next stage is to get approval in outline from the LSC.
“At this moment everyone is still working towards the goal of getting funding and until someone tells us to stop we will keep going.”
St Modwen is rejecting fears that the recession could hold up or even threaten the future of Longbridge.
In a public show of commitment, and in a clear message to doubters, St Modwen recently held its AGM at the newly-built Longbridge Innovation Centre rather than, as usual, in London.
Mr Murray said it was important to realise that the size of the scheme – equivalent to 22 Brindleyplace developments – meant Longbridge should be seen as a long-term project which could be phased in order to respond to market conditions. There was no doubt in his mind that all the elements would be delivered.
Infrastructure work is under way, preparing for new roads and the opening up of rivers for landscaping and the new parks.
St Modwen is actively seeking occupiers for a food store and may soon bring on-stream some housing development.
Mr Murray added: “We have probably spent £25 million already, excluding land costs.
“Our commitment to Longbridge is a lot greater than people might imagine. This is our home patch, our head office is six miles away, and this matters to us because it is Birmingham.”