Training for trains: Railway towns bid for HS2 college
- 26 February 2014
- From the section England
Costing around £20 million, it would be England's first new Further Education College for 20 years. Training the next generation of railway engineers for the age of the high-speed train, it could open in as little as three years' time.
It would unveil new horizons for specialists in rail construction and environmental studies.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says the college would have "cutting-edge technology and use state-of-the-art equipment" providing training courses for the "specific needs" of the project which is expected to generate more than 2,000 apprenticeships.
But where exactly would it be?
I understand several towns and cities are lining-up with an assortment of rival claims:
Already a major player in further and higher education, with a top Russell Group university, the city would be close to the middle of the entire system if and when the network between London and Scotland is completed.
The ultimate railway town is backed by, among others, the record producer Pete Waterman. Thirty years ago he pioneered the Railway Heritage Trust, based in the town, to preserve the skills of the railway era.
Although not due to be on a high-speed line itself, the long-time home of train-making embraces a cluster of over 100 rail or rail-related businesses, the largest in Europe say the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum.
Each of the above will no doubt find staunch advocates among my esteemed counterparts in their respective regions.
Because this is where I concentrate on the claims of the other city expected to go into the hat:
The driving force behind the city's charm offensive is the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. The Midlands' biggest LEP includes not just the conurbation itself but also large areas of South and East Staffordshire and North Worcestershire.
They are hoping nine FE colleges from Burton-upon-Trent to Kidderminster will be able to join a consortium capable of delivering a truly collegiate approach to turning the government's vision into reality.
The University of Birmingham's Centre for Railway Research and Education is also at the forefront of high-speed rail research.
But the idea has had a mixed reception from educationalists.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers says: "The government should be helping FE Colleges to provide engineering and requisite skills. The need for an HS2 college may show there should be a review of how vocational education and training fit into wider industrial policy and skills development. The government seem to think inventing new schools and colleges is the answer to everything."
The other big concern raised by opponents of high-speed rail is that far from bringing in the promised jobs and investment, HS2 is costing the Midlands dear already. Jerry Marshall, whose home at Burton Green in Warwickshire is on the route of the proposed line, sees HS2 as an extraordinarily expensive way of creating jobs.
'Cost thousands of jobs?'
Take for example the plans drawn up by HS2 Ltd, the company charged with delivering Phase 1. They envisage the main HS2 maintenance depot would be on a site adjoining the former LDV Van factory at Washwood Heath in Birmingham, an area which is currently struggling with unemployment rates among the highest in the UK.
The local Labour MP Liam Byrne says the HS2 depot could cost thousands of jobs because it would scupper alternative proposals for a high-tech business park in the same area which Birmingham's Labour-controlled city council hope would create 6,500 well-paid jobs.
So could the idea of the maintenance depot and an HS2 college in the same area yet turn out to be a marriage made in heaven?
Or in hell?
This will be our main talking point on this week's Sunday Politics Midlands when I will be joined in the studio by the aforementioned Jerry Marshall and by two of our leading MPs:
As Shadow Education Secretary, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central Tristram Hunt could be responsible for overseeing the training of the high-speed rail engineers of the future.
And the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, Paul Uppal is in the Prime Minister's inner circle as a member of the Downing Street Policy Board.
I hope you will join me too at 11:00 on Sunday morning on BBC One Midlands.