Hundreds of youngsters in Feltham could lose out on the chance to train as engineers, mechanics and hairdressers after controversial plans to build a new High Street skills centre were put in jeopardy by the credit crunch.
The £20million scheme has come under threat just weeks after architects finished drawing up plans, as Further Education colleges up and down the country are told by the national Learning and Skills Council (LSC) that it is suspending all funding decisions.
West Thames College, in Isleworth, had been hoping to replace the current Feltham People's Centre building with a new state-of-the-art education facility by 2011 but must now wait until March to hear whether its funding has been approved.
Principal Marjorie Semple said: "It is absolutely essential that there is no delay in developing the new Feltham Skills Centre in its new High Street location. Given the absolute necessity for a centre, and the wonderful work that has been achieved since 2003 when Gordon Brown opened the existing centre, I remain confident that funding will be secured when the LSC makes its decisions on March 4."
Victoria Eadie, head teacher at Feltham Community College, said it would be a 'bitter blow' to her pupils if the development did not go ahead. Many of them already attend the existing skills centre, in Boundaries Road, which is in a desperate state of disrepair.
It has been declared 'life-expired' after electricity and heating failures forced it to close down for several weeks around Christmas.
Redevelopment of the college's Isleworth campus is already well under way, but is reliant on the parallel development of the Feltham centre, which would house construction trade skills, catering, mechanics, engineering and hairdressing courses for up to 1,000 teenagers.
Judith Pettersen, Hounslow Council's director of children's services, said the current centre had helped reduce the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training.
She added: "We see the redevelopment of the Skills Centre as an important partnership project between the council, West Thames College and the Learning and Skills Council."
Sir Andrew Foster, former chief executive of the Audit Commission, has been appointed to lead a review into the Government-funded building programme.
Chris Banks, chair of the Learning and Skills Council, said: "Sir Andrew Foster is well respected and, with his sound knowledge of the sector, his recommendations will assist with future financial planning, and inform how the programme effectiveness can be improved, both in the current economic downturn, and for the long-term future."