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Reactions to UTC delay
3:06pm Wednesday 21st August 2013 in Letters
I WANT to respond to the news that the opening of the University Technical College (UTC) has been put back to September 2015 (Journal, August 15). The only appropriate way to start is by saying sorry to the large number of students who were hoping to apply to the UTC in 2014.
Applications had not yet opened, but we had received a large number of expressions of interest from students and parents and I know how excited many of you were. We have tried to contact all affected students to offer help in reassessing their options.
Opening a new and technologically-advanced institution for 600 students less than 18 months after we gained Government approval was always a real challenge.
However, we were bang on target and had received every assurance that the building would be available for refurbishment when we needed it. My optimism and confidence in enthusing potential students and their parents was genuine.
I now share their disappointment, while understanding the difficult decision the Chief Constable had to make.
In recent months I have read numerous suggestions from your readers, some plausible some bizarre, of alternative locations for the UTC as well as the view that “surely there must be somewhere”.
In practice Salisbury has almost no publicly-owned land or buildings that are easily accessible by public transport from across the sub-region and that could support a UTC for 600 students.
The Wilton Road site remains an ideal location and will become a stunning learning environment. It will continue to be our preferred site if we get the cast iron guarantees we are now promised.
As you would expect, my first call on hearing the Chief Constable’s decision was to the Department for Education and John Glen has also had very helpful discussions with the responsible minister. We have received reassurance that South Wiltshire UTC is seen as an exceptionally strong project and that there is clear evidence of the need for a new technical option for young people in the area. We can be confident that the funding is not now at risk.
The UTC is backed by the University of Southampton, 43 (Wessex) Brigade, Wiltshire College, Wiltshire Council and a hugely supportive group of world class local Science and Engineering employers. We are all absolutely determined to use the extra year of preparation to ensure that from day one our students experience a unique and stimulating learning environment.
While the timings have changed, the fundamentals of the premises plan remain absolutely sound. Wiltshire Police will be relieved of a building that is draining its operational resources and that they cannot renovate and will now have additional time to respond to the genuine concerns of some residents.
The young people of Salisbury and the whole sub-region will get a new and high quality option for technical education that is different to anything they can currently access. So I finish with a challenge. Will all those whose main stated objection to the change of use of the Wilton Road site was that it was being rushed now publicly get behind the scheme and add to the overwhelming local support emerging from our public consultation (wiltshire-utc.co.uk/publicconsultation)?
GORDON AITKEN, South Wiltshire UTC project manager, Salisbury
AGAINST such an unrealistic timescale it is a relief that the Chief Constable has resisted the political pressures to relocate Salisbury police by the end of this year.
It is disingenuous for politicians to claim they were badly advised, and whatever the need for a UTC this cannot be at the expense of long term policing. Salisbury Police Station is 50 per cent underused partly because of services being transferred to the nearest ‘hub’ station 30 miles away in Melksham. But we are where we are and clearly something has to be done.
The options include transferring one of the two buildings to other civic use, thus preserving the site against future needs, and relocation elsewhere.
Compatibility with social services on the Five Rivers Leisure site is a strange mix.
Policing is not a social service, rather it is a law and order job; the police do not seek to be loved but rather respected, even a little feared. Nor should they be seen as a department of the council with resources scattered as tenants at various council premises.
Political independence is vitally important. To its shame, the present Government has pursued a policy of political control, introducing Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) elected on a political ticket, thereby usurping the independence of chief constables hitherto advised by local police authorities.
Only within the past month the Times reported a member of the Home Office Affairs Committee, deriding the distinguished Sir Hugh Orde’s re-appointment as president of the Association of Chief Officers, saying he hoped “he would use his time to administer the last rites”. A scary reflection on current political thinking.
It is a fact of modern life that iconic status is important, and particularly so for south Wiltshire, isolated as it is from the rest of the county.
While with modern technology, overall command and certain services may work from a distance, policing remains essentially a personal service calling for ‘hands on’ supervision. The priorities are dedicated premises, operationally composite, with which the public and the police can identify, conducive to personal and interpersonal relations.
FRANK LOCKYER, Salisbury
AS the excellent Annie Riddle said (Opinion, August 15), some common sense has at last prevailed over rushed plans to close Salisbury Police Station and transform it into a University Technical College.
Wiltshire’s Chief Constable, Patrick Geenty, has wisely stepped in and delayed the proposal for a year to allow extra time to ensure "robust"
plans are in place for future policing in the area.
I’m not holding my breath, but hopefully the deferment will now allow serious consideration to be given to replacing the existing police building - said to be too big for modern needs - with a smaller dedicated station, instead of scattering officers around the city.
It was laughable to read the comments of Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson, Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott and Salisbury MP John Glen claiming to be comfortable with the delay - when their first instincts had been to force the plans through quickly in order to accommodate the UTC They bungled things and the Chief Constable bailed them out.
There is also a lesson for UTC project manager Gordon Aitken. Perhaps he should in future wait for the Fat Lady to sing before splashing promises he can’t deliver on his organisation’s website.
DAVID VALLIS, Durrington
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