STOURBRIDGE MP Margot James received little in the way of assurances that the government can ensure the Stourbridge College site is retained for educational provision when she raised the matter in Parliament this week.

Ms James, now an independent MP after losing the Tory whip, told of the "very sad closure of Stourbridge College" in a debate about adult learning and vocational skills in the borough of Dudley in the House of Commons yesterday (October 1).

She said there was a need for continued skills provision in Stourbridge and told Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education Michelle Donelan that top of her list of concerns was the "nature of the sale of the Hagley Road site".

She said: "The site has been associated with education for many years, and it is the deep wish of our community that the site be protected in future for educational use, at least for the most part, for the generations to come.

"When I hear that BMet is expected to realise red book value for the site, alarm bells start to ring and I urge caution on that endeavour and objective. Some colleges within BMet have sought to balance their books by selling off land assets for housing development."

She told how it had taken eight years for planning permission to be granted to redevelop the old Longlands School and art college site, owned by BMet, with residents living nearby "enduring years of anti-social behaviour and uncertainty" and she added: "The board of BMet and the ESFA should reflect hard on the fact that there would be huge opposition to selling the Hagley Road site for residential development and that it would take years to get the change of use and planning consent required."

Michelle Dolan, one of three ministers helping with the FE brief in the Department for Education, described the closure of Stourbridge College as "regrettable" but said colleges were incorporated bodies and therefore independent. She added: "Of course, the Government have a duty to protect the interests of the students and will do everything in their power to do so, but decisions about how an individual college is structured and how it operates remain the responsibility of the college’s corporation."

She said she did not "underestimate the problems that the closure has caused the community" but stressed it should leave the college financially stronger and students would receive high quality learning experiences delivered by providers with better Ofsted ratings.

In response to calls for an inquiry into financial problems at BMet, she said the FE Commissioner was planning to undertake a capacity and capability review to assess progress made under the new leadership team and that Dame Mary Ney will carry out an independent review of how the Government monitors college finances and financial management - which will recommend changes to reduce the risk of similar problems recurring.

She said she had listened to the plea by Ms James for the site to continue as an educational facility, with some adult education, but she said she had no jurisdiction over that option - although she would encourage stakeholders to explore that.

She added: "It is a matter for BMet, however, and its governors will need to demonstrate that they secure the best value from the sale of the asset to satisfy their legal responsibilities as trustees."

A spokesman for BMet said the college was "actively engaging with other education providers to see if the campus can be sold on for continued educational use" and confirmed the site has not been put on the open market for sale.

Speculation has been rife that neighbouring Old Swinford Hospital would like to acquire the site but headmaster Paul Kilbride has simply said the school, which recently received an outstanding rating from Ofsted for its boarding provision, is just one of a number of stakeholders "interested in discussions about the continued development of education in Stourbridge".