£53m student village plan

PLANS to transform part of the town centre into a student village have been unveiled.

Under the radical 53million scheme, Hastings College's St Leonards buildings would be sold off with a new vocational college built at the Station Plaza development.

A prestigious new public and academic library building is also planned for the site which is owned by Sea Space, the regeneration development company.

A second college to replace school sixth forms would also be built there or at nearby Havelock Road. William Parker School is another site being considered.

The Hastings College site at Archery Road would be sold off by the county council for development, possibly housing, although nothing has been decided yet.

These three new developments, along with the university centre, would complete the learning village vision which is hoped will act as a spur for the town's regeneration.

The new colleges would become part of a family of four, with the other two in Battle and Bexhill. They would be connected by a management structure but have their own board of governors and identity.

Sussex Learning and Skills Council and the county council have created the Hastings and Rother New College, as the proposal has been tagged, as a result of the post-16 review.

They say the government has guaranteed the money to build the new colleges - but people need to agree to it first.

The proposal has faced fierce opposition since it was conceived last year from parents and teachers who do not want to see the demise of school sixth forms.

But Henry Ball, executive director of the Sussex LSC, has said the proposal will:

p Improve exam results, which are generally below national standards

p Boost participation among youngsters and adults

p Bring in unheard of amounts of finance for top quality facilities.

He said: "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and if we turn our backs on this now we can't say when this kind of investment in education for this area.

John Shaw, director of the Task Force, believes the four college proposal is one of the most important decisions to be made in Hastings this year.

He said: "We view this as central to our efforts to secure significant long-term economic improvements for the area and its citizens."

The consultation starts next week and will last until May in which time parents, students, teachers and all interested parties will have the chance to say what they think of the proposal.

After that all the views expressed will be looked at before the county council and the LSC decide whether or not to present the proposal to the secretary of state for education for approval.

The library is not part of the proposal being discussed but Mr Shaw said it would be unlikely to happen without the government investment for the new colleges.

If all goes to plan the new colleges and library should be fully ready and up-and-running by 2008.

Outline plans are being drawn up by Sea Space for the whole Station Plaza development at the moment.

They should be presented to the council's planning board in May or June this year. If approved, building work can begin in earnest, whatever the result of the college consultation.