Cash-strapped college wastes £3m on development plans

Cash-strapped college wastes £3m on development plans

A cash-strapped London college spent more than £3 million on plans to develop one of its sites that never came to fruition, FE Week has learned.

Lambeth College, which has been in such severe financial difficulties that the FE commissioner warned earlier this year it was “no longer sustainable” unless it merged, submitted detailed proposals to redevelop its Vauxhall site to Lambeth council in September 2016.

But the plans, which included a new skills centre, a hotel and flats, were pulled six months later.

A Freedom of Information request by FE Week has found the process cost the college £3.228 million.

This was spent on “project development and decant costs in connection with the development of the Vauxhall site” over 2015/16 and 2016/17.

“This is an ongoing project and is currently the subject of a revised bid to the London Economic Action Partnership,” it said, referring to the local enterprise partnership for London.

“The plans are to develop the whole site as an FE entity, with one third of the original scheme being retained and two thirds being revised to result in the expansion of FE facilities.”

But our questions on what the money was spent on were denied on the grounds that it would be “prejudicial to the financial viability of the ongoing project as a whole”.

Monica Box, the college’s interim principal, also refused to say where exactly the money had gone.

“Monies spent to date will support the ongoing proposals for the site which will produce a significantly higher degree of education and training usage,” she said.

“The change of plan was to facilitate more FE-based estate on the site.”

The Vauxhall campus was formerly home to the college’s construction and engineering courses, and is the second largest of Lambeth’s three sites, at 16,700 square metres.

According to the planning application submitted to the council, the proposal was for “demolition of existing college buildings and the erection of a mixed-use development of six buildings ranging from six to 26 storeys in height”.

These buildings included a “new college facility”, a hotel of “up to 184 bedrooms”, which was intended to be a training hotel, and up to 232 residential units.

Lambeth College said at the time that the existing college buildings – deemed to be “no longer fit for purpose” and failing to “meet employers’ needs” – would be replaced with “a groundbreaking education and training facility with a focus on construction, hospitality and science and technology”.

The scheme, which would have involved partnership with the construction firm Carillion, and Arlington Real Estate Ltd, was also set to “benefit from up to £22.25 million” in funding from the LEAP.

The existing site has been standing empty since it was closed in August 2016, and was recently targeted by flytippers, although the rubbish has now been cleared.

Lambeth, which was rated ‘requires improvement’ at its most recent Ofsted inspection, is planning to merge with London South Bank University, although proposals have yet to go out for consultation.

FE Week reported last month that plans for a “back door” takeover of the college by the university, through changes to its governance, had been delayed.

Sir David Collins, the former FE commissioner, reported on the college in March, based on a visit in September 2016, made after a “significant deterioration” in the college’s finances, caused by poor financial management.

FE Week asked LSBU if it was behind the withdrawal of the college’s redevelopment plans, but it declined to comment.