CITB West Norfolk taskforce 'hasn't met for 10 months', officials admit
A task group set up to look into future uses of the Construction Industry Training Board’s (CITB) West Norfolk base has not met for 10 months.
And CITB officials have also admitted there will be no meeting of the body until February, by which time a full year will have passed since its last meeting.
Although it says training programmes will continue as normal until new providers are found, the revelation has renewed anger about how the site is being treated.
More than 1,500 people last year signed a petition launched by local business and religious leaders against the board’s plans, which was subsequently rejected by the CITB.
And the Rev Peter Cook, whose parishes include the Birchams, yesterday said: “It’s a shadow of what it was. It’s a bit of a disaster.”
The fate of the Bircham Newton site has been in doubt ever since the CITB announced its intention to leave in November 2017 and set up a new base in Peterborough.
A task force was then set up in February 2018 following talks involving political, business and education leaders to consider potential future uses of the Bircham land.
But, although several meetings took place during 2018, there has only been one other meeting so far this year, and that was in February.
A CITB spokesman this week confirmed no further meeting is scheduled to take place until February 2020 and said none had been arranged in between because there was “no major update” on the site.
He said briefings had been given on specific issues since the February meeting and the board was continuing to liaise with interested parties about continued training provision.
He added: “Training provision will continue as normal in 2020 until an alternative training provider is secured.”
The board’s new headquarters in Peterborough is due to fully open next month, though staff have already begun working there.
Officials say 65 employees have already transferred there from Bircham, while nearly 300 others have already transferred to other employers, with only six being made redundant.
And Rev Cook said he hoped the continuing presence of training might mean the site could be revived.
He said: “If we have a Brexit after this election, we’re going to need to be training our own builders. There are facilities there [at Bircham] that you don’t find anywhere else.”
The site has also become an electoral issue, with Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Colwell this week accusing his Conservative opponents of seeking to “bury bad news” ahead of next week’s poll.
He said: “The local Tories have not done enough to protect local jobs. What has this task force been doing?
“This whole site should be considered as a green industry college hub to drive future green innovation and learn the new green trades as part of leading the world to prevent climate change emergency.”
But Conservative candidate James Wild said county and borough councillors had met CITB officials two weeks ago.
He added: “All partners remain committed to finding a reputable training provider to take over the site. If elected, I will do all I can to support these efforts.”