£25m funding for University of Peterborough buildings approved

Members of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) Business Board have approved an additional £24.8 million for construction of the phase one buildings of the University of Peterborough.

Saturday, 1st February 2020, 6:46 am

John Hill, chief executive officer for the CPCA confirmed that the money had been released at the business board’s meeting on Monday.

Speaking to members of the CPCA’s main board at its meeting on Wednesday, he announced: “We are asking the board today to approve a commitment of £24.8 million from combined authority funds for the construction of phase one of the University of Peterborough.

“There will be a total of three investments made: £12.3 million from CPCA funds, £12.5 million from the local growth fund, and additionally £1.6 million from Peterborough City Council, representing the value of the land on which the phase one buildings will be constructed.

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An artist's impression of the new University of Peterborough campus at the Embankment
An artist's impression of the new University of Peterborough campus at the Embankment

“There is a further proposal that the Higher Education provider, when revealed next month, could subscribe to become an investor in future buildings should we wish to investigate that, and also for the builders themselves to become investors in the growth of the project.

“A separate company called ‘Unico’ will be credited with the delivery of the university on the site and that will be subject to negotiation with the procurement of an HE provider who with be the majority shareholder in the project, but also with Peterborough City Council and the CPCA so we can exert influence over that delivery.

Mr Hill went on to explain that of the £24.8 million funds from the CPCA, some £20 million will be required for the construction of the buildings themselves, with up to an additional £5 million to increase that capital, enabling even more students to be taught.

Alternatively, a sum of again up to £5 million could be used for a commercial subsidy to subsidise the early-years operation of the university, covering any losses that may be made.

He added: “We are in negotiations with the Department of Education and the Registration of Students so that hopefully we will be able to go independent within five to 10 years and exclusively use the name University of Peterborough.

“We want to achieve up to 2,000 degree awards to students in 2022, 5,600 students in 2025 and potentially up to 12,500 student awards by 2030.

“The options available to the board are fourfold: firstly, an option known as ‘business as usual’, which is actually no intervention by the CPCA or anyone else i.e. a totally independent university run by itself.

“The second option is called the ‘do the minimum’ option, which is actually a return to the policy of supporting (by up to £1 million per year) the way we fund Peterborough Regional College in developing its capacity to deliver 2,000 students by 2022, and 5,600 students by 2025.

“The third option is called the ‘midwife option’, where we get an HE provider to procure the delivery of the university programme for us, and then at some point in the future they back out and give Peterborough an independent university – and indeed, this is the preferred option going forward.

“And finally, fourth is the 1960s-style ‘Bronson Institute’ option, which is to build a £300-400 million university entirely from scratch, and straight away; and of course the board won’t be surprised to hear we’ve immediately discounted that option on the basis that its completely unaffordable and unrealistic.”

A delighted Cllr John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “It is very pleasing to report to members of the board that this project is on time and on budget.

“We will begin with our public consultations, followed by construction beginning in the autumn and the door opening to students in September 2022. By now you’ll all have seen the first artist’s impressions of the phase one buildings which have generated a lot of comments – I personally thought it looked like a bit like a ship, but others have apparently nicknamed it the ‘Toblerone’.

“Luckily, we’re a long way off a final design at this stage so no doubt it will change somewhat.

“As you know there is a three day event public exhibition being held in Peterborough Cathedral which is free and will take place on February 4 from 4pm to 7pm, February 5 from 2pm to 7pm and February 6 from 2pm to 7pm.”

Cllr Bridget Smith (leader, South Cambridgeshire District Council), while supportive of the project, had some concerns and said: “I cannot see anywhere in this report that we have had external risk assessment of the project, has that been done?”

Mr Hill replied: “Yes, it has been done – in fact we’ve actually gone as far as to have this report externally produced with the support of CPCA staff, using 19 different and frankly brilliant consultants from all sides of the education provision market – everything from curriculum experts to IT suppliers to architects.

“We’ve also had a completely separate and independent adviser – Seymour Prince who did the original ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ work in the 1980s.”

Cllr Lewis Herbert (leader, Cambridge City Council) was also supportive, and said: “I too would like to see the risk register – there are a lot of references in the business case to risks met, but I think we need to obviously judge who is going to be leading the project and see what that process generates into – their talents, their skills, their drive – because they’re going to have to be entrepreneurial to make something as complicated as this work.

“Only then will we see if the student recruitment programme is proportionate to the overheads, but I’m genuinely glad that Cllr John Holdich will be able to leave us with his head held high, and therefore I’m happy to approve this funding release.”

Members voted unanimously to approve the release of the £26.4 million funding.

Robert Alexander, Local Democracy Reporting Service