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A CEREMONY was held yesterday as the structure of Basildon town centre’s new college campus was completed.
A ‘topping out ceremony’ was held atop the building, on the old Basildon Market site, ‘marking the completion of the outer shell of the building’.
The controversial three-storey college campus will offer courses in IT, networking, software development, computer games design and animation.
Planning permission for the campus was first granted in 2013, but the Yellow Advertiser exclusively revealed in 2017 that South Essex College was looking to downsize the building.
In 2018, a renewed planning application showed the proposed campus had shrunk to less than 40 per cent of its original planned size.
The floor size had shrunk from 8,050 square metres to 3,212 – and the planned number of staff had dropped from 150 to 58.
The revised plans provoked anger from some campaigners and councillors, as the creation of the college campus had been cited in 2013 as the most important reason for approving a luxury housing development off of Nethermayne and Dry Street, which eradicated a designated Local Wildlife Site the size of 12 football pitches.
The college relocation was a key component in a development chain which facilitated the luxury housing estate.
South Essex College’s existing campus, in Nethermayne, was promised to developer Redrow Homes, to be included in the luxury housing development, which includes five-bedroom mansions priced at more than £660,000.
A statement about this week’s ‘topping out ceremony’, issued on behalf of the council’s current administration – which includes several Labour and former UKIP councillors who fought against the Dry Street development – described the more than 700 homes as ‘much-needed, high-quality family housing’.
In order to facilitate the housing estate, plans were hatched to move the college to the town centre, which in turn displaced Basildon Market.
Tory councillors who approved the Dry Street development over huge local protest in 2013 claimed that the new college campus would attract large numbers of students to the town centre, resulting in a significant cash injection into the local economy.
The same justification was given in 2016, by Basildon and Essex councillors, when £1.75million of taxpayers’ money was used to bail out the relocation of Basildon Market – which had originally been promised at ‘zero cost to the public purse’.
But whereas the 2013 planning application had suggested the campus would have a capacity of 1,520 students, the revised 2018 plan had a ‘maximum design capacity of 630 users’.
Former Tory council leader Phil Turner said he was ‘very disappointed’ by the change as ‘the footfall is obviously going to be substantially less’.
Campaigners against the Dry Street development – whose leaders included a former staff member at the Nethermayne campus – said in 2013 that they did not believe the college needed a campus of the size that had been proposed, and that they believed it would be significantly downsized or scrapped altogether after the luxury houses were underway.
When the revised plans were published in 2018, former Tory councillor Danny Lovey – one of the leading campaigners against the Dry Street development – said: “The people of Basildon have been let down. This isn’t what they were promised.”
Although planning permission was granted for the shrunken facility in 2018, councillors on the Planning Committee expressed concern at the revised design.
In a statement issued after yesterday’s topping out ceremony, South Essex College principal Angela O’Donoghue said: “We’re very excited that our vision to bring high quality education and training back to the heart of Basildon town centre is almost complete.”
Labour council leader Gavin Callaghan added: “Today is an important milestone in the journey of Basildon town centre’s transformation and one that will bring an important contribution to the skills and training offer available to our young people.
“We want as many partners like South Essex College as possible – organisations that are willing to invest and help build a modern, ambitious town that can thrive into the future.”