Hopes for a renaissance dashed

19th June 2009 at 01:00

The news of another delay to the approval and possible "culling" of a significant percentage of the college building programme by the Learning and Skills Council is disheartening ("LSC rethinks priorities for capital building cash", June 5).

The wave of optimism that drove the colleges and their advisers forward to be more ambitious and bullish about their redevelopment plans seems a dim and distant memory, as is the almost "post-war euphoria" of a new wave in educational ambition and inclusion.

The vision of a "brave new world" for 14- to 19-year-olds, in state-of- the-art accommodation, responding swiftly to the needs of industry and the economy, providing an infrastructure for lifelong learning and engagement, was seductive and buoyed more than 100 colleges to embark on a polemical programme of both physical and operational transformation that was being undertaken at break-neck speed.

When the LSC called a halt early this year, it seemed like a temporary respite. It would now appear to be more enduring.

Analysis of the implications of this halt on both the physical and learning landscape continues with sad resignation and a loss of confidence and trust.

The pragmatics of restarting and downsizing development proposals - which may well be "shovel ready" in the LSC's words - are achievable, if painful, for all those involved.

The most detrimental impact is the breakdown in the paternalistic relationship between local provider and central government, and the biggest losers are inevitably those on the edges of traditional education who would have benefited most from the huge injection of infrastructure and confidence that this programme would have brought.

At a time when we hoped beyond hope that our college rebuilding would steer us out of recession, we are left with the nasty suspicion that no one is at the helm.

Maggie Mullan, Partner, Austin-Smith: Lord architects.

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