The Voice Of The People Of The Forest of Dean
Dean Forest Voice (DFV) have been involved in discussions concerning the development of the Cinderford Northern Quarter since the Consultative Group was established in 2005. Our interest was not so much in the regeneration of Cinderford (which we believed was a matter for the people of Cinderford), but in the wider question of development within the Statutory Forest of Dean. This we opposed at every possible opportunity. It was quite clear in those early days that one of the key factors in the development of the Northern Quarter was the inclusion of, what was then referred to, as an 'Educational Hub'. Many ideas were put forward as to what form this should take, but as discussions proceeded it became clear that the favoured proposal was for the Royal Forest of Dean College to transfer to Cinderford. It also became clear that without the transfer of the College the entire scheme was not viable. A document published in Jan. 2007 called 'Cinderford - Building Success' and which summarised the work which was underway to prepare a 'Business Plan' for Cinderford contained the following :-
New Campus for Royal Forest of Dean College Why?
Cinderford ranks within the top 10% of the most deprived areas in England for education and skills. The existing College is on two sites and uses out of date facilities. It's relocation to Cinderford will give the town new community facilities and confidence Later in Dec 2007 the Cinderford Business Plan was published, and in the section 7.3 Preferred Options, one of the key elements was :-
A new college campus adjacent to Steam Mills Lake.
The Plan would support and encourage the role of the Forest of Dean College as a provider of formal further and higher education in the Cinderford area and work with the college to secure the provision of a new campus as part of the mixed use redevelopment of the Northern Quarter Lake. Key partners with the College would be Gloucestershire County Council, Forest of Dean District Council, Learning Partnerships,and the (then) SWRDA and English Partnerships. The business Plan went on to assess the suitability of the area for development and stated that the key issues were :-
The presence of an open cast site
The presence of various mine shafts
Potentially contaminated land: and
Issues surrounding mining rights (known as 'freemining')
It was obvious to Dean Forest Voice that the land stability and contamination, together with the inappropriate development of the Statutory Forest, made the site unsuitable for the proposed developments. Our views, when presented to the Forest of Dean District Council and the Forestry Commission, were generally dismissed as unfounded or alarmist. In 2008 work began on drafting the second Preferred Options document- The Core Strategy and the Cinderford Area Action Plan (AAP).
In the Examination draft published August 2011, under the heading 'Projects' it states :-
6.4. Gloucestershire College (with which the former Royal Forest of Dean College merged in February 2011 has examined the Northern Quarter site as an option for College relocation, alongside a range of alternative relocation sites in the Forest and an option to refurbish existing buildings in situ.)
The results of this feasibility and due diligence exercise enabled the College's Board of Governors to approve a recommendation to relocate the College to the Northern Quarter in July 2011. This is a significant decision and will form a key part of the of the AAP's first phase of delivery
6.5. ...............The first phase will see the Southern section of the new road being implemented to enable access for the new College development. Subsequently the Core Strategy and the Cinderford AAP went before a Government Planning Inspector for examination between the 12th and 17th October 2011. Members of DFV were in attendance at all sessions and gave evidence at many of them. At one session DFV asked the representative of the Homes and Communities Agency what they, as the new owners of the Five Acres site, planned to do with it. They replied that they would build houses on it. This response was of no great surprise to us as the HCA is the regeneration agency for England. With a budget of £7bn they provide investment for new affordable housing and to improveexisting social housing. What did come as a surprise was that the redevelopment of Five Acres had never been mentioned in planning policy, nor been the subject of consultation between the Coleford and West Dean Councils and their electors. On the strength of the evidence given to the Inspector by Gloscol Principal, Greg Smith, the Inspector came to the following conclusion:-
2.3 (26) The new college campus is intended to not only be the focus and a vital initial component in the delivery of the overall scheme, but also an economic catalyst to attract complementary and related employment uses to the site. Moreover, as now committed (July 2011), the college would offer significantly enhanced facilities for students in an attractive location that should also be reasonably well served by public transport.
In section 4 - Delivery, Phasing, Implementation etc...it goes further :-
49. The new college is now committed to be built in Cinderford (as of July 2011)and is intended to be the main anchor for the overall scheme. This is not just in terms of timing, in conjunction with the southern part of the new spine road in Phase 1, but also in relation to the delivery of public funding from the HCA. At the hearings it was confirmed that £14.75 mil remains a committed funding approval. Some £6mil of this approval has already been expended to progress the overall scheme. All of this goes to show that this is not a plan under consideration, but the fruition of long term plans to move the College to Cinderford and to develop the Five Acres Site. The Council Leader and the College Principal have been reluctant to answer questions about the plans, but now that people are aware of what is going on, and getting very angry about it, they are now starting to show their faces. Even the MP has felt it necessary to drag himself away from the 'Great Questions of State' and pay attention to his constituents. The Answer from all of them is the same, "Don't get excited - Nothing has been decided -Trust in us" etc. etc.)
DFV have asked the same questions of both Patrick Molyneux and Greg Smith. "If you say the College is in a poor state of repair and would be costly to repair, on what do you base this assessment and how much money is required to put it right?" The question is met with blank looks because, clearly, there are no surveys and they don't have a clue as to the cost. We asked why the Five Acres Campus was sold off so cheaply and not put out to tender, again they cannot answer. The people are right to be angry, and groups like FANS are doing a great job and deserve all the support and encouragement that we can give them.