Call for Government to back North-East engineering centre of excellence (From The Advertiser Series)
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Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson says ministers must bring college to Newton Aycliffe
THE Government must approve a new North-East engineering centre of excellence to galvanise the region's industries, an MP has said.
Schools Minister Lord Nash is expected to reveal next week whether an ambitious bid to create a university technical college (UTC) in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, has been successful.
Any decision would come just days after ministers sanctioned proposals for a new further education college aimed at providing specialist training for engineers to work on the High Speed Two (HS2) rail project.
The Northern Echo understands the HS2 centre, which will be the first of its kind for 20 years, will be based in the Midlands, training workers to build the railway, rather than rolling stock.
However, the Government has not ruled out bringing it to the North-East.
But Phil Wilson, Labour MP for Sedgefield, said if Coalition ministers were intent on boosting industry specific engineers for the rail sector, they must approve the proposals for Aycliffe, which would create more broader skilled workers.
He said: “If the Government plans to set up a centre of excellence for HS2 as a sign of its commitment to that project, then it should also approve a UTC for Aycliffe.
“That would give business in this region the confidence to grow.”
The UTC plans, headed by the University of Sunderland, would see the opening of an annex on Aycliffe Business Park, accepting up to 600 students a year.
Bosses hope to open the centre by 2015 and help bridge the North-East's worrying skills gap.
The region is expected to lose 8,500 workers to retirement by 2016.
The college would be modelled on 1940s technical schools, providing extended work placements and core GCSE subjects to improve skills.
The plans are backed by Aycliffe-based train builder Hitachi Rail Europe and chassis component firm Gestamp Tallent, who both want a skilled local workforce to support their growth plans.
Hitachi plans to create 730 jobs when its £82m train factory opens in 2016, while car chassis maker Gestamp wants to create 320 jobs.
In March last year, the Government approved 13 new UTCs, nine of them in the South, and the Coalition has backed 45 in total, though the Aycliffe centre would be the first in the North-East.
A Government spokesman told The Northern Echo it had not made a decision on where the new HS2 training centre will be, but did not dismiss the North-East.
He said: “We are working through the finer details of the college, which include its location.
“It could be in the North-East or it may be more centrally based, but it will work with satellite centres to offer increased education provision.”
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