College sale plans spark anger

A COUNCIL has been accused of letting people down after it announced it was to close an “icon of social and educational life”.There was an angry reaction yesterday when Essex County Council confirmed it plans to sell Grey Friars adult education college in Colchester.

A COUNCIL has been accused of letting people down after it announced it was to close an “icon of social and educational life”.

There was an angry reaction yesterday when Essex County Council confirmed it plans to sell Grey Friars adult education college in Colchester.

It will merge services with the Wilson Marriage Adult Learning Centre, but admits the changes may lead to job losses - although it is hoped some staff can be redeployed.

The council said both buildings needed extensive upgrades but believed the Wilson Marriage site in the Hythe area of town would be easier to adapt and modernise and plans to spend a million pounds creating a “flagship” education centre.


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But former principal of Grey Friars, Alan Skinner, accused the council of cashing in by selling the prime town centre location.

And he suggested there could be an outcry from the public with possible demonstrations in the coming months.

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The future of both listed buildings has been under review, with the council saying neither has been operating at full capacity.

Iris Pummell, county councillor in charge of community services, said: “The aim of this proposal is to provide an adult learning centre that enables the service to meet the changing needs of the community of Colchester within a remodelled high quality building that has a significant positive impact in the local community and beyond.

“Wilson Marriage is located near the Hythe, which has a number of new residential developments, and Colchester Borough Council is planning substantial regeneration of this area.

“The county council recognises these aspirations in developing the Hythe area and we hope this new investment can make a contribution to this.”

Michael Bowes, head of adult learning at the council said: “We recognise there is a long history and tradition of learning associated with Grey Friars, and it will be a sad loss to all of those who have been associated with it.

“However, if adult learning is to flourish in Essex we need to invest in buildings that can be adapted and developed to meet the changing needs of our learners.”

The council now plans to look into the feasibility of its proposal saying the changes at Wilson Marriage centre were reliant on the money from the sale of Grey Friars.

But last night Mr Skinner said: “If my phone is anything to go by, people are not going to be happy about this.

“Grey Friars is in the town centre, it is near to the museums and the new Visual Arts Facility and the public transport routes.

“I think they would be selling off an icon for social and educational life in town. The site is ripe for development in the present climate.

“I don't think that the Wilson Marriage centre is up to the job of being the flagship of adult education services, there is not enough room there.”

He said that, ironically, the Wilson Marriage centre was saved from closure in 1997 after its operation was merged with Grey Friars.

John Knight, a spokesman for the Colchester Adult Learning Continuing Access Group (CALCAG) said the main priority had to be the future of services, regardless of the site.

A “remodelling plan” is now being drawn up by consultants and if it is suitable and a business case is agreed, work at the Wilson Marriage could begin in July next year with the intention of the new centre opening for the start of start of the academic year in September 2008.

Last night the town's MP Bob Russell refused to comment on the issue.

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