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The following articles appeared in today's The Cornishman:
For the many, many people who spent literally hundreds of man hours framing and winning the bid to site a university campus for Cornwall at Penzance, Exeter University's decision to pull the plug on the scheme at this late stage comes as a bitter blow.
The university authorities may seek to lay the blame at Penwith Council's door for not stumping up a million pounds to buy the site but this would be disingenuous of them, for once it became clear that the scheme had failed to win Millennium funding the whole shooting match began to look decidedly shaky, with no realistic fall-back position in place.
Exeter's subsequent plan for a much reduced scheme and the economic benefits from such a scheme did not apparently bear examination and if Exeter were not prepared to risk money in buying the site once it became marginal then they should not expect Penwith, and by implication the people of Penwith, to bear such a risk.
It is only to be hoped now that something can be salvaged from the wreckage and that all parties that believe in the need for a university for the county will work together to bring it about - but on the evidence of this particularly depressing and frustrating experience, such a unified front would seem highly unlikely.
What we now seem to be left with is a number of educational establishments all vying for a slice of some notional cake that will give us a hotch potch development of higher education in the county without any clear focus or direction on a number of sites that cannot hope to compete with that envisaged at Trereife.
Meanwhile those that muddled the waters in this initial bid may reflect that their actions may well have robbed Cornwall of this golden chance for many, many decades, if not ultimately forever.
End of the dream
Frustration and anger as Exeter University pulls the plug on Trereife campus
BY NIGEL PENGELLY
ANGER, bitterness and frustration followed news this week that Exeter University had pulled the plug on Penwith's dream of a university campus at Trereife.
The final whistle was blown on years of hard campaigning when Penwith Council decided not to spend £1 million on buying the site for Exeter's revised and much-reduced university scheme.
A confidential extraordinary meeting of Penwith Council held last week considered a detailed economic impact study which indicated that the limited economic benefits of the considerably reduced proposals for the university did not justify the expenditure involved.
Penwith had earmarked £1 million to assist the university development at Trereife but in January this year, the University of Exeter asked Penwith to use the money to buy the site for them.
Penwith commissioned an economic impact study to see if the revised scheme had legs.
The study concluded that there were fundamental concerns in terms of the way the new project was being developed by Exeter University and that there were substantial risks and uncertainties - not the least in terms of grant aid and development funding.
Keith Giddens, director of planning and economic development at Penwith, said the University of Exeter had asked Penwith out of the blue to buy the site when the future of the Trereife was based on speculation.
He said: "Penwith does not usually buy sites for development and we have to be responsible in the way in which we use taxpayers money.
"The fact that the university was unwilling to make any financial commitment to the site and asked Penwith to take on all the risks and liabilities on their behalf, made life even more difficult for the councillors - especially in view of their unswerving support at the time."
Attempts by the University of Exeter to secure Millennium and European funding faltered last year leading to change of plans as to a Cornish university campus.
Where initially it was hoped to build the campus all at once, Exeter University later decided to relocate Camborne School of Mines, the Institute of Cornish Studies and the Department of Continuing Adult Education to Trereife and develop the site into a full university stage by stage.
Sir Geoffrey Holland, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, said: "I am disappointed and saddened because we made it quite clear that if Penwith did not decide to buy the site then we would terminate our interest. We knew it would be difficult for them.
"Penwith has lost out on a golden opportunity and a major university. It will go elsewhere."
Sir Geoffrey added that the Government was looking to setting up a forum to expand higher education in Cornwall.
Mr Giddens added: "The fact that the University of Exeter may now terminate is clearly to be regretted but at no time did the council allocate £1 million to the site purchase.
"Perhaps the response of Exeter University is indicative of the speculative nature of the current proposals and the fact that the scheme is not sufficiently developed or resourced to enable them to take the upfront financial risk.
Furthermore, at present, such a purchase would be illegal.
"If they are not prepared to make a commitment to the site, it rather begs the question as to why Penwith should assume all the risks and liabilities on their behalf on a greatly overvalued site for which there is no alternative use."
Other sites in the county are back in the race
Commitment to the expansion of higher education
BY NIGEL PENGELLY
AS the news that a university campus at Trereife was no longer feasible echoed around the county, other local authorities beaten to the post by Penwith in the bid to host the university re-entered the race.
New bids for the campus were bolstered when Exeter University said it was committed to expanding higher education in Cornwall - but not in Penwith.
As Penwith Council refused to spend £1 million of taxpayers money on buying the Trereife site for Exeter University, the controversial plans to relocate Camborne School of Mines to Penzance will now be permanently shelved.
Sir Geoffrey Holland, vice-chancellor at Exeter University, said he was still looking for a site in the county adding that already established college sites at Pool and Falmouth did not allow for further expansion.
Restormel Borough Council has re-entered the campus contest, urging Exeter University to look again at a previously shortlisted site owned by Prince Charles at Tretherras, Newquay.
The Cornwall and Camborne University Support Group led by Timothy James, of Penzance, says it is hoping to bring university status to Cornwall College at Pool with sites around the county including one in Penzance.
Sir Geoffrey added: "It is quite clear from what has been happening, from conversations with funding bodies and the regional government offices in Bristol that there is a way forward.
"The Government has at last woken up to the fact that will be a real crisis in Cornwall. All the institutions of higher education must pull together to find a way forward. Although Trereife is no longer in the running, there are plenty of other sites in Cornwall."
PENWITH Council's re-elected chairman, William Trevorrow last night defended the decision not to buy the Trereife site.
He said that the council had commissioned an Economic Impact Study which revealed that the economic benefits for the much reduced scheme would be limited.
"Having received the Economic Impact Study it was considered that the risks associated with the funding of the project, and other uncertainties were too great for the major up-front investment by the council. The economic benefits were also forecasted to be limited on the reduced scheme.
"In any event, the decision at this stage would not have been legal," he added.
Letter to the Editor from Sir Geoffrey Holland
From: Sir Geoffey Holland,
Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter.
Sir, Through your columns I would like to record my thanks to the people of Penwith for their steadfast support of our efforts to establish a new campus. I know that the many people who have striven so hard to make this project a reality will be extremely disappointed that any new development will not now happen at Trereife.
However, I hope they will take some comfort from the fact that their efforts have left no-one in any doubt, whether they be in Cornwall or Whitehall, of the county's need for improved higher education provision and that this is a key factor for the future prosperity of Cornwall.
I would also like to thank Penwith Council for their help. No-one could have guessed when we first bid for Millennium Commission cash that so much of the available resources would go to fund a giant dome in London.
Because were were unable to get Millennium money, obtaining other matching funding was made extremely difficult and at the end of the day the only way forward was for the council to buy the site.
I was never in any doubt that this would be a tough decision for councillors, given the very tight restraints on the spending of public money, so no-one should blame them for not being able to help.
We chose Trereife for the Cornwall Campus project because we believed it was the best site and because there was such strong support locally.
However, I hope people will understand when I say it doesn't really matter where in Cornwall any development happens as long as it does happen. In that spirit I will be meeting with Government, the Higher Education Funding Council, and other higher education providers in Cornwall within the next few weeks to try and agree a joint approach for future development in Cornwall.
There are new opportunities to be grasped and as one chapter closes there are clear signs that another is opening.
What they said about the university decision
Tourism officer for Penwith Council:
If the university does not come then a lot of students who would love to have come to Cornwall will miss out. It would have brought future generations to Cornwall because most people have fond memories of where they were a student. Most would have come back to Cornwall.
Chairman, Penzance Chamber of Commerce:
The Chamber of Commerce is disappointed but life has to go on. There is a great tendency to sit back and let it happen but we have to go out and look for other business to come to town. Penzance is the right place but I hope that the university comes to Cornwall somewhere.
Cornwall and Camborne University Support Group:
The councillors have come to the conclusion that we came to three years ago that the scheme was uneconomic and would damage Camborne and Redruth and would be bad for Cornwall. We think it was handled very badly all the way through and every financial review of the scheme say that it was very amateurishly prepared.
MP for St Ives:
I am not surprised. I know it must be a disappointment for all those keen on the Trereife site, but it is not the end of the story not by any means. I have always held the view that siting is not the issue. Those who have been more concerned about where the university should be established have represented the worst side of parochial Cornwall. What matters is that a university college should be established.
Conservative spokesman for Cornwall:
The decision by Exeter University to drop the Penzance site is a disappointment and a setback but it makes it all the more urgent that all the institutions should draw up joint plans rather than each getting its own way.
Penwith College Principal:
I am very disappointed by the news that Exeter University has pulled out of Trereife-a campus that would have brought many benefits to Penwith and the college. There is no need to dwell on what might have have been. My point is that the need for a university is still there but now all that is changed the question is how that need is to be met.
Councillor's bid to reverse the decision
A PENWITH councillor has this week launched a bid to get the council's decision reversed.
John Payne, who organised two petitions in support of the university, which attracted 20,000 signatures, believes that Exeter still wants to build its campus at Penzance.
He and four other members have signed a motion calling for an extraordinary meeting of Penwith Council to reconsider the crucial decision which could have deprived the town of the chance to become Cornwall's main centre of higher education.
"I am sure that the university, whatever they might say publicly, are still keen on Trereife if Penwith is prepared to help.
"It seems to me that the Penwith decision was railroaded through and the public must think it nonsensical that, after over two years, the council has suddenly lost interest.
"I am still convinced Trereife is the best site. It was chosen by the university from more than 50 countywide originally submitted. The site is ideal. Penzance is on the main rail line, the infrastructure is very good and Penwith's short tourist season fits in well with the academic year," he added.
St Ives MP Andrew George said he had always held the view that the siting of the university was not the issue.
"Those more concerned about where the university should be established have represented the worst side of parochial Cornwall.
"What matters is that a university college should be established on a site with a faculty mix matching Cornwall's modern needs," he added.
David Harris, Conservative spokesman and former MP, said that the decision was a disappointment and a setback, but it made it all the more urgent that all institutions should now draw up joint plans.
St Ives MP Andrew George was yesterday due to meet Education Minister David Blunkett to raise local concerns about the need for a university college in Cornwall.
Mr George took the opportunity to impress upon Mr Blunkett that Cornwall desperately needed his strategic investment.
Copyright © Cornish Weekly Newspapers Ltd 1998
The following article appeared in today's Western Morning News:
Blunkett back campaign for new university
EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett last night threw his weight behind the campaign for a University of Cornwall.
And, crucially, he offered to help broker a deal between the battling factions trying to decide the future of higher education in the county.
The move came after a meeting between the Secretary of State and St Ives Lib-Dem MP Andrew George.
It could pave the way for a settlement of the row at a key meeting in 10 days between all the key players involved in trying to set up the university.
Exeter University favours a single site, although its preferred option near Penzance fell through last week. Plymouth University would rather see a split campus embracing higher education establishments across the county.
Mr George said after the meeting with Mr Blunkett: "He accepted the need and he offered to assist in brokering a deal and seemed to be very keen to support and very well-briefed on the subject."
The MP said he hoped the forthcoming meeting could now "bring about some kind of understanding about the whole thing".
But he stressed the minister had made plain the Government could not throw money behind one new university at the expense of another existing institution. Mr George said Mr Blunkett did accept that students in Cornwall increasingly wanted to study closer to home because of the lack of grants.
"He accepted that because of the funding structure for students that would increasingly be the case.
"However, there is no point in Cornwall squabbling about sites and buildings in front of the minister. We must present a united front."
Copyright © Western Morning News Company 1998
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Last modification: 15th January 2002
Last information content change: 12th November 1998