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Internal News - 14 February 2007

Senate recommendation to withdraw from the Gateway project at Swindon

For the last five years, the University of Bath, supported by Swindon Borough Council, has been working to exploit an opportunity to build an iconic, new campus at the Gateway site in Swindon. Last year, the project achieved a significant milestone when the Local Plan Inspector supported the development of a university at the Gateway site. However, with such a long lead in time, there was always a risk that key factors could change during the project development phase.

The University has been monitoring the planning environment closely and two recent developments, one local and one national, have given cause for concern about the viability of the original campus concept. At a local level, the density of development proposed in the revised Masterplan for the site, presented to the University by the developers Persimmon and Redrow last October, is no longer consistent with the University’s original campus model.

At a national level, there have been clear indications that the agenda has moved on where future public funding priorities for Higher Education are concerned. In the final report of the Leitch Review of Skills, published in December 2006, there was an emphasis on increasing higher level training in the workplace. In the annual grant letter from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to the HEFCE, published in January 2007, there was reference to “radical approaches that can lead to much higher levels of access to higher education by older people already in the workplace”. It seems prudent to assume that these priorities will be carried forward in the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 which will determine the funding available to the HE sector from 2008-09 to 2010-11. This clearly increases the risk of not securing recurrent public funding for a traditional campus, as envisaged for the Gateway site. Having considered the changed planning context, Senate has today agreed to recommend to Council that the University should withdraw from the Gateway project.

Clearly, the University now needs to have the widest consultation possible before Council meets. There will be further discussion internally and externally over the next two weeks. Senate was aware other information may emerge during that time and recommended that it should be given appropriate consideration.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Glynis Breakwell, would like to invite members of the University community to a general staff meeting at 1.15pm on Thursday 22 February 2007 in 5West 2.3 to outline the current position and to seek their views. The views of the community will then be reported to Council.

Council will meet to consider the recommendations from Senate on 1 March 2007.

The University has worked closely, and productively, with Swindon Borough Council over ten years to develop higher education in Swindon. It already supports a range of successful initiatives at its existing Oakfield Campus. These include the Small Business Hub, the Swindon Innovation Centre, the Western Vocational Lifelong Learning Network and the Swindon SCITT (School-centred initial teacher training). The University will continue to engage with Swindon Borough Council about the development of higher education in the town.