College row hits ‘crisis point’ in wake of High Court ruling - The Malvern Observer

College row hits ‘crisis point’ in wake of High Court ruling

Malvern Editorial 11th Aug, 2023   0

THE LONG-RUNNING saga over the future of Malvern Hills College has reached ‘the point of no return’ after the council lost its fight to keep the covenant on the building.

That’s the view of Liberal Democrat councillors on Malvern Hills District Council who have requested an extraordinary council meeting to find a way forward.

Meanwhile Malvern’s Conservative MP Harriett Baldwin has labelled the situation ‘an asset-stripping exercise’ and offered her full support should councillors decide to appeal the ruling.

The covenant agreement was designed to ensure the college remained an educational establishment regardless of ownership.

It was first put in place in 2008 when Malvern Hills District Council (MHDC) sold the college to Evesham College for £850,000, not when the college became part of Warwickshire College Group in 2016. There have been attempts by the local community to buy the site but this has so far been unsuccessful.

Last week the High Court ruled it would not enforce the covenant which protected teaching at the college.

The Great Malvern college, which offered arts courses, was shut and put up for sale in 2021.

Liberal Democrat group leader Coun Paul Bennett said: “The situation has been brought to crisis point. We are approaching the point of no return, with the land likely to be sold for housing if we do not find a solution soon.

“The council needs to come together, work for the community and ensure we keep our college in Malvern.”

Although a rescue bid was pulled together to buy the site from Warwickshire College Group, negotiations stalled, and a deal could not be reached before the court hearing.

Mrs Baldwin said: “The council expressed a clear view it wished to protect teaching at Malvern Hills College, and at the last full council meeting, councillors also reinforced their unanimous support.

“My reading of the judgment is the courts want to ignore the wishes of the democratically-elected councillors and I would support the council if they chose to appeal this ruling.

“It brings me great sadness that it has come to this, where an educational body is willing and able to sue a council to profit from selling off one of our community assets.

“I understand that Warwickshire College Group’s chief executive, who has led this asset-stripping exercise, will soon be moving on and I hope that wiser heads will prevail, even at this late stage, to allow a deal to be done to ensure teaching is returned to Malvern Hills College.”

A spokesperson from Malvern Hills District Council said: “The council has exhausted every avenue in its efforts to secure the future of the college but must respect the decision of the court.

“The future of the college is in the hands of Warwickshire College Group and we continue to urge them to find a way forward that supports the long tradition of education on this site.”

WCG CEO Angela Joyce said the ruling showed there was no functional need for a further education college in Malvern.

“We are still open to offers and willing to strike a deal which will see Malvern Hills College site sold to the community,” she said.

“At the same time given that the various community bids have not come to fruition in the last two years, the college group will be exploring other options including the potential leasing of the site until a sale is agreed.”


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