THE bid to get a huge new vocational college installed in Brierfield Mills has taken a downturn, disappointing leading Pendle figures.
A former Burnley cotton hub, rather than the Brierfield one, has been selected as the “preferred location” for Training 2000’s new University Technical College, which would give hundreds of young people aged 14 to 19 the chance to learn workskills rather than attend high schools.
The chosen site is Victoria Mill - part of Burnley’s Weavers’ Triangle, which the town has been trying to restore for decades. The Prince of Wales has backed its improvements.
The decision, subject to approval from the Department for Education, was made this week by a panel of employers who have already pledged their support for the UTC, following a tour of the sites proposed by Burnley and Pendle Councils.
Victoria Mill was one of the three considered. As well as Brierfield Mills, they also considered Kings Mill, Briercliffe.
At its recent meeting, Nelson Town Council strongly supported the Brierfield Mills idea. Nelson-based Training 2000 will now detail its plans for Victoria Mill in the next stage of the process.
John Proctor, UTC curriculum advisor at Training 2000, said: “When we started looking at viable locations for the UTC we had a lot to take into consideration, such as location, access, public transport links and, of course, price.
“A key deciding factor in selecting the Victoria Mill site as our preferred location was its excellent public transport links and proximity to the town centre.
“In addition, the Weavers’ Triangle is set to be a flagship regeneration scheme in the region, and we believe the UTC will benefit from business opportunities it will attract.”
The final decision on the location is expected in the coming weeks.
Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson said: “I am disappointed. I think Pendle Council put forward a very competent and comprehensive argument for Brierfield Mills.”
He explained that Pendle Council was bidding to buy Brierfield Mills from the charity which currently owns it, and the UTC would have been a flagship for its development. The council had given Training 2000 “a decent offer” to use the mills.
He added: “We were very keen to get them into Brierfield Mills because of a wider impact. It’s a shame, but the fact the UTC is coming to East Lancashire is a tremendous move.”
Mr Stephen Barnes, Pendle Council’s chief executive, said: “We are very disappointed not to have been awarded the UTC for the Brierfield Mills site. We had an excellent proposal which would have provided ideal facilities for the college while kick-starting a comprehensive regeneration programme for the site, finding new uses for these superb buildings and leading to the creation of hundreds of jobs.
“Sadly, it is now back to the drawing board for our plans. We agree with English Heritage that the buildings are at risk. We share their ambitions for Brierfield Mills and we’re keen to work with them.”
And he said: “Our vision is to turn it into a multi-use development similar to Dean Clough in Halifax or Salt’s Mill at Saltaire, where successful businesses employ hundreds of people and there are leisure, arts and cultural attractions alongside housing, hotels and restaurants, all in a heritage setting.
“We don’t own Brierfield Mills, but will do our utmost to get a conservation and regeneration strategy in place which will protect the mill and provide jobs for our community. We haven’t won the bid to develop a UTC for the mill, but we have lots of other ambitious plans.”
And Mr Brian Cookson, executive director (regeneration), said: “The council is not currently at an advanced stage to buy Brierfield Mills. We were hoping to acquire it and were in discussion with the current owners, Islamic Help, but we now have no resources to enable us to proceed - at least in the immediate future.
“However, we will continue to investigate funding sources and are still awaiting the outcome of a bid to the Regional Growth Fund for this purpose.”
Brierfield councillor Naeen Ashraf said: “It’s a devastating blow to Pendle and particularly Brierfield. This would really have been a breath of fresh air and a huge improvement for Brierfield and Pendle.
“I’m extremely disappointed Pendle Council has not done exactly what it did with Lob Lane Mill and sorted its site.”
He said there were rumours the charity had potential buyers for different parts of the mill. And he said: “If that was to happen, it would be absolutely important for the council to bring the site together and introduce a fantastic regeneration project, meaning hundreds of jobs.
“I would ask Stephen Barnes and council leader Coun. Mike Blomeley to use the powers they have to start a compulsory purchase proceedure to save the site and the future of Brierfield.”
He felt that, otherwise, it would have an impact on the Canal Corridor and house prices there.