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Last-ditch talks to save college

Europe's largest training centre for the construction industry is asking for public funding to save it from closure because of an pound;8 million shortfall for redevelopment.

The National Construction College has opened talks with the Learning and Skills Council and hopes that taxpayers' money can be used to renovate the college's main site, a former RAF base in Norfolk, after a plan to raise cash by selling land for housing failed when planning permission was refused.

Andy Walder, the acting director of the college, said: "Without any form of external funding we would still be looking at the closure options. These are not options that the board, or the industry, wants to consider as they will compromise the specialist training provision on offer, but they would be the reality if current funding discussions prove unsuccessful."

Jaine Clarke, the Learning and Skills Council's director of skills for employers, said: "Discussions will focus on the future funding of the college and its capital investment needs."

In the worst case scenario, the entire college might be closed if funding cannot be secured.

The college trains 35,000 people a year, half of whom study at the threatened 480-acre campus at Bircham Newton, near King's Lynn. It is the only site in the UK offering training facilities for heavy plant, tower cranes and steeplejacking, says ConstructionSkills, the building sector skills council.

The students, who come from all over the country, live on the campus but the 50-year-old former barracks are substandard, the college says. Its pound;15 million refurbishment plans include accommodation for 250 students and new leisure facilities.

The college wanted to fund the redevelopment by building 250 houses on 20 acres adjacent to the college, but the local Conservative council and Ruth Kelly, the Local Government Secretary, rejected the plan as overdevelopment.

Jim Dobson, the leader of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Council, said they could not accept the housing plan and called for central Government to invest in the college as closure would mean the loss of 700 jobs.

The college board plans to review progress of the rescue plan in July. A final decision on its future is expected by the end of the year.

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