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The following article appeared in today's The St. Ives Times & Echo:
'Commit yourself on University' Penwith tells Holland
Council takes tough stand on watered down scheme
IN FIVE carefully worded resolutions, one assuring continued support, Exeter University's Vice-Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Holland has been politely told to 'put his money where his mouth is' over the university's Trereife campus initiative by Penwith District Council. The district council has already spent £100,000 to help Exeter with their initiative, £50,000 of which was part of a joint deposit to secure the option to purchase the Trereife site. But time is running out and Sir Geoffrey has so far been spectacularly unsuccessful in his efforts to find any 'serious money' from sponsors with which to attract matched funding.
The council's patience finally ran out at a closed meeting on Wednesday night when, following meetings with the Exeter team they debated the invidious position they had been placed in by the university. In mid-January Exeter told Penwith that they could not meet their commitment to purchase Trereife. Their solution was to ask the council to buy Trerieff [sic] for the university because they 'could not afford to' - or risk losing the university. The suggestion put the local authority between a rock and a hard place, effectively asking them to casually speculate with rate-payer's money on the off-chance that some funding would materialise in the long term - against a background of current failure.
Exeter's 'University of Cornwall' costed at £100 million would give West Cornwall an 'old fashioned' style university campus at Penzance. Launched three years ago by Sir Geoffrey the idea was received with great enthusiasm throughout Cornwall but only Penwith was prepared to give a clear financial commitment to the project. They guaranteed £l million of support funds. Together with Exeter the council spent £100,000 to secure the option to buy Trereife. Over the last three year Penwith has spent another £50,000 developing the project at their end. Now, clearly, the council wants Exeter University to honour its side of the bargain.
The Holland Initiative began to flounder·when it failed to attract funding from the Millennium Commission. A further, and much more damaging, blow came when the project's viability was questioned in a report by International Consultants PMKG for the Government Office South West, prior to an application for European Regional Development Funding (ERDF). Finally, the ERDF postponed their decision on a possible £15 million grant. In the face of the postponement Sir Geoffrey announced a revised proposal which entailed little more than moving the Camborne School of Mines to Penzance. In effect offering Penwith a considerably watered down proposal which [sic] and also starting to burn the already hot potato of local politics. Few if any local people wish to see the economy of Camborne damaged further, even less want to be party to it.
"Clearly, this was a new scenario for the council which had previously only agreed in principle to contribute £1 million for on site development of the campus." Penwith said in a statement issued yesterday. "The request requires the most careful examination, especially in view of the reduced nature of the initial proposals which now relate principally to the relocation of Camborne School of Mines as a first phase." It is difficult to imagine that the revised proposal would not have disappointed even the initiative's most ardent supporters. Indeed, Wednesday's voting, with only one councillor voting against the resolutions, strongly suggests this to be the case.
Penwith District Council's resolutions are: that the University of Exeter be advised the council remains strongly committed in principle to promoting and securing the University Campus Initiative for Trereife and Cornwall. Secondly, they will continue to reserve the remaining £9,000,000 from the Capital Allocation to support the initiative. The key resolution (3) is that 'The university be asked to purchase a further extension for two months of their option to purchase the site' while a fourth resolution states that the council will commission an Economic Impact Study into the new proposal once the further option has been secured. The council will fund this new study from reserves - an additional contribution to Exeter. Finally they have agreed to consider the matter once study has been complete. [sic]
"In order to be fully informed in respect of the new proposals the Council will now be securing a detail Economic Impact Study to assess the effects of the significantly different scheme provided the University will extend the time frame." Penwith's statement concludes, placing the ball firmly back in Sir Geoffrey's court. The option on the Trereife site runs out on March 31. Exeter University's Senate has just seventeen days to decide if they really can afford to back the vision of their Vice-Chancellor while the district council is now clearly looking for commitment or closure.
Copyright © The St. Ives Times & Echo 1998
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