Rolle U-turn: backlash

THE fall-out of County Hall s failure to buy the Rolle campus to use as a post-16 college has begun with recriminations and political finger pointing.

THE fall-out of County Hall's failure to buy the Rolle campus to use as a post-16 college has begun with recriminations and political finger pointing.

The campus, it was a thought, would sell for a minimum of �3 million, prompting Exmouth Town Council to commit 10 per cent of its budget, with county council putting �2 million on the table - the Learning and Skills Council was to pay the rest.

Since then, however, LSD funding was pulled, the Lib Dem county council administration fell to the Conservatives and one of the partners, Exeter College, began to work more closely with Bicton College.

Last week, the leader of the Conservative-controlled district council, Sara Randall Johnson, laid the blame at the feet of the Government and owners Plymouth University.

She had earlier lambasted the previous Lib Dem administration at County Hall for not doing enough to secure the site.

Tory MP Hugo Swire also blamed the previous administration: "I think it is very sad that Plymouth University have made �7-8 million from selling land relating to Rolle College, but could not see it to let the town have the Owen Campus building and the surrounding site.

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"Had the previous Liberal Democrat administration at the county council actively pursued this project, we would have secured this site for Exmouth.

"But now, because of a lack of money... we are going to lose it.

"I feel I was misled about the determination to acquire this site."

But former county leader Brian Greenslade, insisted if the Lib Dems had been returned to power in June, the site would be purchased: "Once we had... a sensible figure from which to negotiate... I had no hesitation in asking the former... Liberal Democrat Executive to agree to try to purchase the... site.

"Had the Liberal Democrats retained control... we would have followed through with this purchase."

Despite a squeeze on local Government finances, he said the expenditure was justified because the closure had affected the town's economy, 'growing capacity problems' at Exmouth Community College and the 'absence' of an alternative strategy to increase educational provision for 14-16 years olds.

"The prospect of sending young people elsewhere to cope with the lack of capacity at Exmouth college is not sustainable in educational, environmental and financial terms," he said.

"...the site may not have, in the long term, provided the perfect answer to the problems facing Exmouth college but, in the short to medium term, it would have provided a solution.

"The decision by the Conservative Cabinet at DCC... in my view has left Exmouth high and dry with no clear alternative strategy... (to deal with)... capacity problems...

"...leading up to the decision... we were frequently lobbied by East Devon MP Hugo Swire and EDDC leader Sara Randall Johnson to put up the money... I am surprised that, following the Conservatives taking control of the county council, just how muted these two... have become."

l Residents can sign a petition, organised by Lib Dem county councillors Brenda Taylor and Eileen Wragg, to save Rolle College for the town in the Magnolia Centre this Saturday.