University of Sunderland, Hitachi Rail Europe and Gestamp Tallent re-submit Newton Aycliffe university technical college plans

Darren Cumner, Hitachi's Aycliffe plant manager, far left, has backed revised plans for a UTC. He's pictured here with Councillor Neil Foster, from Durham County Council, David Jones MP, and Geoff Hunton, far right, formerly of Merchant Place Developments

Darren Cumner, Hitachi's Aycliffe plant manager, far left, has backed revised plans for a UTC. He's pictured here with Councillor Neil Foster, from Durham County Council, David Jones MP, and Geoff Hunton, far right, formerly of Merchant Place Developments

First published in Business News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by

A BID to create the North-East's first engineering centre of excellence has been revived, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Plans for a university technical college (UTC) training up to 600 youngsters every year will be re-submitted to the Government.

The college, which would be based on Newton Aycliffe Business Park, County Durham, is backed by the University of Sunderland and Aycliffe-based train builder Hitachi Rail Europe and car parts maker Gestamp Tallent.

Bosses say it would support the next generation of North-East workers and plug a major skills gap in the region's manufacturing heartland.

The area is expected to lose up to 8,500 engineers to retirement by 2016.

Hitachi, which will start building trains in Aycliffe in 2016, wants workers for its 730-jobs plant, while chassis manufacturer Gestamp plans to create 320 posts.

Original proposals for an Aycliffe UTC were snubbed in January when the Department for Education (DfE) favoured bids from London, Peterborough, Lincolnshire and Lancashire, despite strong backing from Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, and Transport Minister, Stephen Hammond.

The Northern Echo understands DfE ministers were not convinced the bid was ready.

However, under the revised plans, the UTC would open in September 2016, taking on up to 150 new students a year and training up to 600 youngsters in total, with pupils joining at 14 or signing up for post-16 courses.

Bosses are now working on the new bid, which will include a survey of views from employers, parents and pupils across south west Durham.

Professor Gary Holmes, pro-vice chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said: “The North-East suffers higher general unemployment than other regions nationally.

“However, the engineering industry is in good shape in our region and has been suffering from skills shortages and unfilled vacancies.

“There is a particular need for the well-skilled across the sector and trends suggest this sector will grow stronger.

“The arrival of Hitachi adds to what is already a major engineering presence and a new impetus in education and training is needed to help build a highly skilled workforce for a prosperous future.

“This is a real opportunity to make a major contribution to the lives and security of our young people.”

UTCs are modelled on 1940s technical schools, providing extended work placements and core GCSE subjects to improve skills.

In March last year, the Government approved 13 new UTCs, nine of them in the South, and the coalition Government has backed 45 in total, though the Aycliffe centre would be the first in this region.

Prof Holmes added: “We know we have to persuade a large number of parents and pupils across the region that what we are offering is attractive, and we aim to show how the UTC will complement existing opportunities rather than replacing them.

“The major engineering employers involved will have a huge stake in ensuring the UTC fulfils its mission in educating, training and empowering skilled young people.”

Darren Cumner, Hitachi's Aycliffe plant manager, added: “Over the last two months, we have worked on our bid and hope it will satisfy the DfE’s requirements.

“We are looking at all options to encourage young people to choose a technical career, and for us, a UTC is an additional route to do so.”

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