Published: 16:05, 04 June 2021
| Updated: 16:07, 04 June 2021
A demand for answers about efforts to keep a university which is proposed for closure will be discussed by councillors next week.
The call has been made by the Labour opposition to update details about how Medway Council and the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) are progressing in crisis talks to keep the Rochester campus.
Council leader Alan Jarrett (Con) has pledged to explore avenues with university chiefs on "alternatives to closure" after the shock announcement last month.
UCA says it is facing a £17 million repair bill to upgrade the existing campus in Fort Pitt Hill which opened in 1970.
As a result it has proposed to consolidate its four sites to three with courses moving to Farnham and Epsom in Surrey and Canterbury and ending its further education provision to focus on undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab), opposition spokesman for children and young people at Medway Council, is raising the issue and calling for clarity on what work has been carried out to retain the university in Medway.
He said: "We want to see the council and the university working hard to ensure that the opportunities which the UCA provides within Medway and for the people of Medway are kept.
"The loss of the UCA would be a significant blow, particularly as we launch our bid for City of Culture. I have informed the council that I want some answers at my member’s item on June 10.”
Council papers ahead of the regeneration, culture and environment committee next Thursday say "a number of discussions" have been held with UCA vice chancellor Bashir Makhoul since the closure proposals were confirmed.
Richard Hicks, the authority's director of place and deputy chief executive, said in a report there have been representations from various partners "all with a view to seeking to maintain a UCA presence in Medway".
A petition set up this week urging university bosses to reverse their decision has been signed by more than 2,000 people.
Unions say up to 150 jobs will be lost under the plans which would see the campus close in September 2023.
Famous former students including fashion designers Karen Millen and Zandra Rhodes have all expressed their sadness and disappointment at the decision raising concern about the impact it will have on the creative sector in Medway and opportunities for young people.
Opposition leader at Medway Council Cllr Vince Maple (Lab) added: "We are fighting hard to retain the UCA and its further education provision in Medway because we see it as vital to Medway’s future and our economic prosperity, our cultural vitality and our aspirations.
"All of us are proud of the work the UCA does and everybody is keen to see it stay."
Mr Hicks says the council has enjoyed a "strong and positive working relationship" with UCA chairing the Medway Cultural Partnership and leading the production of the Towns' cultural strategy for 2014-19.
UCA is also a key partner with Medway Council in its bid to be named UK City of Culture 2025.
Prof Makhoul says the Rochester campus cannot exist in its current form.
But in a letter to staff last month, he added: "It is too early to say whether any of these early discussions might open a door to some form of continued presence in Medway.
"However, I did want to reassure you that we are listening to feedback, engaging with stakeholders and leaving no stone unturned as we continue to explore the future of our presence in Rochester."
UCA Rochester's student union has called for an "open conversation" with university bosses and to provide "clarity and transparency" to ensure learning is not affected until the campus closes.
To view and sign the petition against the closure head to Change.org