Wirral university proposals in Peel’s plans move ahead

Michael Hunt

Plans for a 'new multi-million-pound Wirral Learning Zone' moved a step closer as a £20m centre of higher education was given the green light to move onto the second stage in the process.

Wirral Council, working with the University of Chester, has put forward the plans which would form part of Peel's £4.5bn Wirral Waters plans for the Birkenhead dockland area.

Partnerships interested in developing a higher education centre or new university campus were asked to make proposals under the Government's new 'University Challenge' scheme.

Out of 23 proposals submitted to the Higher Education Funding Council for England under the government's 'University Challenge' initiative, just six across the country have been given approval to move forward, although any further progress will be subject to a decision on how much government funding is available.

As well as Wirral, the Government approved five other proposals for the second stage in the process in Somerset, Crawley, Milton Keynes, Swindon, and Thurrock.

In addition to a new higher education centre being created in Wirral, plans would also incorporate a new further education campus for Wirral Metropolitan College and a special educational needs teaching facility. However, none of the three buildings have gone in for planning yet.

Professor Tim Wheeler, the University of Chester's vice-chancellor, said: "Although the plans are very much in their early stages and further progress is subject to funding being available, we believe this proposal could help unlock the potential, competitiveness and productivity of the Wirral by providing not just the highest quality teaching and learning facilities, but also a stable and nurturing environment within which individuals can be supported to maximise their talents.

"We're delighted to have received the green light to move onto the next stage in the process, as we believe we have presented a strong and robust case based on extensive market research. The proposal clearly represents a significant opportunity for the Wirral.

"We have worked closely with three partner organisations – Wirral Council, the North West Development Agency and Wirral Metropolitan College – to develop the proposal to the current stage, and look forward to continuing our partnership work over the coming months."

If the higher education centre plan is realised, the first students could begin their studies in September 2012.

Subject to planning permission, Peel's Wirral Waters would create 15,000 new homes, in excess of 25,000 jobs, opportunities for workforce development, and top-class hotel and leisure facilities.

In August this year, Wirral Council approved Peel's £200m Northbank East proposal paving the way for a mixed-use first phase of the vast Wirral Waters development.

Northbank East, within the East Float of Birkenhead Docks, connects the converted grain warehouses on Dock Road to the hydraulic tower on Tower Road.

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