Lack of public transport blamed for collapse of £10.5m training centre

iMet opening

Jonathan Djanogly MP joining the Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough to officially open the new state of the art iMET training facility on Alconbury Weald. - Credit: LEP

A high tec Cambridgeshire training centre collapsed within two years of its opening, with expected losses of £8m.  

And lack of public transport has been blamed.  

The £10.5m vocational training centre at Alconbury Weald – paid for by Government money – opened in 2018 and collapsed within two years.  

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) were not responsible for it but has been left to pick up the pieces – and scratch their heads at the losses.

iMET at Alconbury Weald

iMET at Alconbury Weald - Credit: iMET

iMET centre at Alconbury Weald

iMET centre at Alconbury Weald - Credit: RightMove

Here’s what CAPCA has been told by its business board. 

“Whilst apprenticeship demand in the central Huntingdon campus has remained strong, it has proven prohibitive for students to travel from the town, out to Alconbury Weald,” it concluded. 

The lavish Innovation, Materials, Engineering & Technology (iMET) centre was financed through a grant from the disgraced Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). 

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A sale price now being considered of around £3m creates a massive headache that has angered Mayor Dr Nik Johnson.  

CAPCA is involved since it is their business board that took over the LEP. 

“The business board have received the offer from a local business for £3.15m for the freehold interest in the iMET building,” says a report to CAPCA. 

“If that transaction proceeds it is expected that £2.4m will be returned to the local growth fund.”  

Mayor Johnson considered the iMET building as a base for the Combined Authority but ruled out the idea as being impracticable.  

He is also conscious that the company that wants to buy it will be able to expand and create extra jobs. 

The LEP provided a 100 per grant to Huntingdonshire Regional College (HRC) to design and build the vocational training centre at Alconbury Weald.

MP Jonathan Djanogly and then Mayor James Palmer at the opening of iMET

MP Jonathan Djanogly and then Mayor James Palmer at the opening of iMET - Credit: iMET

 This included £550,000 for design and £9,952.000 to build it – the money coughed up by a government grant.  

The LEP signed off on the deal in 2016 awarding full ownership and management of the centre, to be known as iMET, to Huntingdonshire Regional College.  

However, the land (valued at £500,000 at the time) remained the freehold of Urban & Civic, who leased the land to HRC.  

Despite outpourings of Parliamentary support, the outcomes anticipated failed to materialise. 

Topping out ceremony for iMET

Topping out ceremony for iMET - Credit: iMET

Few noticed, for example, that the investment, according to a CAPCA report, only created 12 full time jobs at an average cost of £875,000 per job.  

Numbers of apprentices trained at iMET – that opened in 2018 – never met its target of 360 a year.  

With targets not met in 2019/2020, iMET – having transferred ownership to Cambridge Regional College following the takeover of Huntingdonshire Regional College – shut shop. 

CRC and Peterborough Regional College (PRC) ran iMIT for a while and expected to meet a forecast skills gap. 

In the event, business growth in the catchment area of the centre, especially within the Enterprise Zone, did not happen. 

Since its opening the not-for-profit iMIT “made significant losses” and the impacts of COVID and a contraction of the core revenues of both CRC and PRC proved a toxic combination.  

Employers cancelled apprenticeship enrolment and both colleges concluded they could not continue with “significant, and now likely to be more significant, subsidies required to keep iMET open and trading”. 

IMET was wound down and apprentices finished training at either Peterborough or Cambridge. 

iMET training centre project, at Alconbury Weald, secures £10.5million Growth Deal funding , (l-r)

iMET training centre project, at Alconbury Weald, secures £10.5million Growth Deal funding , (l-r) Councillor Roger Harrison, Jonathan Djanogly MP, Mark Cooper, Richard Baggaley, Robin Butler, Susanne Stent, Councillor Robin Howe, Nick Boles MP, Councillor Jason Ablewhite - Credit: Archant

Cambridge Regional College will be released from the original grant funding agreement obligations in return for foregoing any income from the sale in favour of CAPCA. 

And a new agreement between CAPCA and the college will allow the value of the equipment removed from iMET to be offset against delivery of training. 

Mayor James Palmer officially opened the centre alongside Jonathan Djanogly MP for Huntingdonshire  in June 2018. 

Guests included key stakeholders Cambridge Regional College, Peterborough Regional College, Huntingdonshire District Council and Urban&Civic.. 

Minister for Local Growth, Jake Berry, said: “We are committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the UK and building a country that works for everyone.