A two-month consultation was held earlier this year. Credit: NCATI

Doncaster explores new direction for £26m NCATI

Opened in 2017 to provide upskilling for high speed rail, the facility was rebadged as the National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure in 2019, but will close this month.

Doncaster Council’s cabinet meets next week, and will be asked to rubberstamp ongoing work by officers to create a future for the site as a hub for education and training.

The local authority had supported – “both financially and practically” as a report to cabinet says – the development of the National College for High Speed Rail on Carolina Way, a development co-funded by the Mayoral Combined Authority and central government.

Doncaster spent more than £1m on pre-development cost contributions.

The college’s purpose had been to upskill engineers, designers and managers as HS2 came on-stream, but as the project became bogged down in political rows, delays and costing issues, the college’s brief was widened when it was rebranded to NCATI in 2019.

NCATI was subsequently taken over by the University of Birmingham Group in 2021,  but was still running at a significant loss – according to FE News, it made a loss of £2.7m in 2021/22.

A two-month consultation has been completed this year, with the college subsequently declaring it will cease direct delivery as of 31 July, a state of affairs that leaves Doncaster Council, the site’s freehold owner, with the responsibility of determining an alternative future.

Learners are being transferred to other providers, including Sheffield Hallam University.

Doncaster Council has not stood still: in March the authority responded to the college consultation by requesting that the facility and its offer be reconfigured to suit a multi-occupancy, multi-purpose use: a hub for learning and enterprise to support a Centre of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering and Rail.

Doncaster is now liaising with NCATI and the Department for Education, from which it is requesting funds to aid the transition and provide an indemnity for gaps in occupancy – the building costs up to £629,000 per year to run – while furthering talks with other partners to establish a business case for a new offer “aligned to local strategy with a robust framework”.

A project delivery team has been established, and is tasked with items such as identifying potential education provision and training courses specific to the identified sectors; working with education providers to map out any space requirements and constraints; and working with sectors to co-design and agree flexible training space which will also provide a commercial offer.

Doncaster intends to use this work to put together a business case, as part of which it will explore a phased approach to delivery, to facilitate handover of the building and ensure the running costs are recovered as early as possible.

With that in mind, cabinet approval is requested to delegate responsibility to the council’s director for children, young people and families, and the director for corporate resources in consultation with the portfolio holder for early help, education and skills, to make all decisions relating to the running and operation of the former NCATI building.

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