Cabinet criticises government handling of HS2 in wake of Doncaster rail college closure as plans to reopen building are explored

Plans are being considered for Doncaster’s former rail college to reopen under a new scheme, as cabinet members have criticised the government’s handling of HS2 for its closure.

During a meeting of Doncaster Council’s cabinet on Wednesday (19 July), members heard plans to explore new options for the site as it is handed back to the authority.

Cabinet members accredited the site’s closure to the government’s handling of the high speed rail project HS2, which is yet to be realised.

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The National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure (NCATI) is in its final processes of closing down after being open for six years.

The £26 million purpose-built facility first opened as the National College for High Speed Rail in 2017, with an aim to train apprentices to work on HS2.

As the future of HS2 in the East became uncertain and was later scrapped entirely, the college failed to meet student number targets.

In 2021, ownership of the site was taken over by the University of Birmingham and it was renamed NCATI, with an emphasis on general rail engineering.

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The college still failed to sustain its business model however, leading to the announcement of its closure in May this year.

This week, the council announced that new options are being explored to reopen the site for a similar purpose.

Doncaster Council is liaising with NCATI, the Department for Education and potential business partners to discuss new options for the building.

Plans will align with Doncaster’s Skills and Economic Strategies which aim to better integrate local skills with industry.

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The strategy has five key priorities: engineering and manufacturing, green technology, health and care, creative and digital and culture.

Councillor Lani-Mae Ball, Cabinet Member for Early Help, Education, Skills & Young People said to cabinet:

“It is unfortunate to see the building close in its current capacity despite best efforts from the college and the University of Birmingham. We have seen a lack of consistent rail policy across successive governments, with five different prime ministers in seven years all having made different promises in relation to education and railway investment.

“It’s no wonder that under the conditions the industry could not commit to either the Doncaster or Birmingham sites.

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“However, as the empty building is due to be available to the council as early as 1 August, we are working with local, regional and national partners to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to secure a viable future.

“This is a building which has helped to shape doncaster’s skyline and it’s educational horizons and we are committed to ensuring that it continues to do so with the new offer.

Councillor Nigel Ball added: “It is incredulous that we’re in this position, looking at the chaos we’ve had over the last five to ten years of this government. It’s beggars belief we’re in this position, but it’s good to see Doncaster Council is looking at the options around it’s usage.

“Let’s not forget we’re here because of successive prime ministers and successive governments and their broken promises, and certainly HS2 and their position of ditching it has led us to this, nothing else.”