The MMU site, Alsager: A Community Development Plan
Alsager Residents Action Group [ARAG] has produced a Development Plan for consideration by Cheshire East Council Leaders regarding the ‘mixed use’ that could be made of the former MMU site. The Development Plan was created by Professor Derek Longhurst and is based upon the creation of a viable framework for a strategic and collaborative partnership focused upon the core objective of saving the most valuable of the publicly-funded buildings and sports pitches on the former MMU site. Instead of a narrow commercially-driven approach, this constitutes a creative and exciting project that would provide educational and training benefits alongside health and well being for the wider community.
The Plan essentially involves:
- The establishment of a University Technical College (UTC) providing engineering and vocational programmes of study for the 14-19 age group
- The UTC would be supported by a University and by significant employers in the region through work-based learning opportunities
- The UTC infrastructure would be based upon the preservation and refurbishment of the buildings currently located on the southern side of the site. Funding to support the UTC would be through the Department for Education and would also involve support from the Baker Dearing Foundation
- The UTC infrastructure would provide the basis for the maintenance and future management of the playing fields and Sports Facilities which would be made accessible for community use especially by youth teams. The Alsager Sports and Recreation Association will take a leading role in shaping and determining this development.
- The site would also allow for the development of a community ‘village’ designed to meet the needs of elderly and disabled people. The intergenerational character of this community is an important feature and it is to be hoped that there may be benefits also for University of the Third Age activities. The Plan embodies a positive approach to the enhancement of opportunities for lifelong learning and we hope that U3A will also engage fully within the partnership.
- MMU could still recover its financial costs through the sale of the land for residential housing within the northern Brownfield footprint of the site.
In our view this plan is in line with the adopted Town Plan and the former Congleton Borough Supplementary Briefing document that addressed the future use of the former MMU site. Its presentation to Cheshire East Council Leaders demonstrated how such a plan was integral to its own Local Plan and to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. The Plan has met with a positive response from Cheshire East Council Leaders and from our local MP, Fiona Bruce, who has long been an active advocate for UTCs and with whom we will be working to generate crucial industry backing especially from major engineering and technology companies.
It is important to emphasise that this Plan is not just ‘wishful thinking’ and implementation plans for this project have been initiated to ensure that there are grounds for optimism that this constitutes a Development Plan that is realisable. It is essential now that such detailed arrangements are transparently developed, as a matter of professional courtesy, with all parties that have a stake in the enterprise including Alsager School and South Cheshire College of Further Education, the Town Council and MMU. It will be essential to develop the UTC in a way that enhances collaboration in educational provision and avoids unnecessary and wasteful competition.
Where other Development Plans presented to the community in Alsager are clearly driven by narrow speculative and commercial gain for the companies and landowners involved, this plan has a ‘moral’ dimension to it. It is driven by a concern for the future education, training and employment opportunities available for our young people as well as for their physical health and well being. It puts into place a community development plan that will not increase carbon emissions, pollution and congestion and so will benefit the community as a whole. It will also serve to ‘rescue’ sports pitches and facilities that have been built, maintained and even refurbished at the taxpayer’s expense. From that perspective, it would be irresponsible – and unacceptable – to implement any of the options put forward currently by DTZ for the development of the MMU site.
This proposal will enable Alsager to meet its commitments as a Key Service Centre and provider, as outlined in the Cheshire East Local Plan, while also maintaining its ability to deliver prospects for growth and employment across our entire community. Alsager Residents Action Group (ARAG) is pledged to work vigorously, on behalf of its residents, to achieve the very best use of the facilities on the former MMU site and we are aware that we only have this one window of opportunity in which to do so.