Hopes rise for new North-East engineering college

The Advertiser Series: ARTIST'S VIEW: An impression of the new Hitachi Rail Europe plant, in Newton Aycliffe ARTIST'S VIEW: An impression of the new Hitachi Rail Europe plant, in Newton Aycliffe

HOPES are rising that the Government is about to give the go ahead for a new engineering centre of excellence in the North-East.

Ministers are expected to announce in the coming days if plans to build the region’s first university technical college (UTC) have been approved.

The college would be based on Newton Aycliffe Business Park, in County Durham, training up to 600 people a year.

Bosses hope to open the college in 2016 and help to plug a forecast skills gap of 8,500 posts.

Original proposals for an Aycliffe UTC were turned down in January when the Department for Education (DfE) favoured bids from London, Peterborough, Lincolnshire and Lancashire.

It is believed DfE ministers were not convinced the initial Aycliffe bid was ready. A beefed-up bid was submitted in May.

The plans are supported by the University of Sunderland, train builder Hitachi Rail Europe and car parts maker Gestamp Tallent, with significant backing from Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson.

Hitachi will start building trains in Aycliffe in 2016 and wants skilled workers for its 730-job plant, with chassis manufacturer Gestamp planning to create 320 posts.

The most likely site for the college will be on land adjacent to Hitachi’s factory at Merchant Park.

On Monday, the Government’s Growth Fund deals included backing for new roads and services to be installed on Merchant Park to provide the essential infrastructure that will attract more investment to the site. The UTC is one such investment that bosses at Merchant Place Developments - the owners of the site - regard as key to helping create a site than could eventually employ more than 2,000 people.

UTCs are modelled on the technical schools established in the 1940s, providing extended work placements and core GCSE subjects to improve skills.

In March last year, the Government approved 13 new UTCs, nine of them in the South, and the coalition Government has backed 45 in total, though the Aycliffe centre would be the first in this region.

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