Britain’s first new Further Education College for more than 20 years is to be built to train 2,000 engineers for the planned High Speed 2 rail link, the Government will announce today.
The move is designed to demonstrate ministers’ commitment to the contentious project to connect London, the Midlands and the North of England.
Government sources said the new college, which would use the latest technology to deliver programmes specifically tailored to HS2, would ensure the scheme is built by British workers.
In his first comments on the project since his appointment, David Higgins, the new chairman of HS2, said: “The alternative is a continuing reliance on a Victorian network which is already at breaking point.”
David Cameron and ministers have been struggling to convince many Conservative MPs of the merits of the HS2 and face open revolt in parts of the Home Counties that would be affected by the scheme.
But today’s announcement makes clear the Government is not prepared to back off from the project, which it insists is essential for boosting economic growth outside the South-east of England.
The college, which will be built outside London and open in 2017, when work on HS2 is due to begin, will focus on apprenticeships in construction, rail engineering and environmental protection. Under current plans the first stage of the high-speed line, linking London and Birmingham will be completed by 2026, with branches to Manchester and Leeds planned by 2032.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, will say the project will lead to 2,000 apprenticeships during 15 years of building work. That compares with the 430 apprentices employed to deliver the 2012 Olympics and 400 for the Crossrail scheme in London and the South-east.
Mr Higgins said: “HS2 will give this country a much needed chance to rebalance both the economy in general and our national skills base.”