Fears over funding for new Lowestoft sixth form college

Hayley MaceA scheme to build a new sixth form centre in Lowestoft has taken an important step forward - but there are fears the project could face major setbacks if government funding is delayed.Hayley Mace

A scheme to build a new sixth-form centre in Lowestoft has taken an important step forward - but there are fears the project could face major setbacks if government funding is delayed.

Plans for the �28m centre, which will eventually house about 1,000 students, have now been submitted to Waveney District Council, but the government has still not confirmed that money for the development will be made available in time for it to open in September 2011.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) announced earlier this year that it was limiting the amount of funding it releases, which could mean that the Lowestoft project gets delayed or that construction costs will rise above the available LSC grant.

Either situation would mean that the building will not be ready in time and that students would have to carry on studying at high school sixth-forms around Lowestoft until the work was finished.

The bid to revolutionise post-16 education in the town has been designed to give teenagers more choice at a purpose-built centre in the grounds of the existing Lowestoft College.

It will replace the sixth-forms at Lowestoft's three high schools as part of Suffolk County Council's shake-up of education in the town, and the September 2011 opening date has been set to correspond with the change to two-tier education in Lowestoft.

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A county council spokesman confirmed yesterday that there was still no confirmation on when any money for the project might be made available.

She said: "We are still in talks with the LSC about the financial package. We are very much working with them. Nothing has been agreed as yet, but we are meeting with them on a weekly basis and at the end of this week, we will be meeting them to go over the whole proposed financial package for the development."

The plans, which were submitted this week by London-based designers Atkins on behalf of the Lowestoft Learning Trust, show a building with an open internal atrium providing open-plan study space. There will also be an external grass quad at the natural centre of the campus.

There will be a new vehicle access from Rotterdam Road, leading to a new staff and visitor car park. The sixth-form centre will also have pedestrian links to the neighbouring Water Lane leisure centre, with plans under way for outdoor playing fields at nearby Barnard's Meadow.

Last month, Waveney MP Bob Blizzard met children and schools secretary Ed Balls in London to try to secure funding for the sixth-form centre. He said yesterday: "We're now just waiting for the minister's decision. I had hoped that we might have an answer by now, but hopefully it will come shortly.

"The Lowestoft project has a very strong case and it is a very important scheme for the town."

The LSC is expected to make a decision on the funding application later this year and Waveney District Council is due to make a decision on the plans in the coming months.

As well as concerns about funding for the Lowestoft sixth-form, colleges across the region have had their rebuild plans halted by pressure on the LSC's capital programme including major projects at City College Norwich, the College of West Anglia, King's Lynn, Lowestoft College, Yarmouth College and East Norfolk College in Gorleston.

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