THE Gazette can reveal today that the sale of the Ilkley campus of Bradford and Ilkley Community College has been agreed.

Subject to planning permission being granted, work to convert the 15.64 acre site into housing will begin in summer next year.

In a deal worked out with Bradford and Ilkley College Corporation (BICC) and Leeds-based surveyors Storey Sons and Parker, the site will be bought by Crest Homes (Northern) Ltd, a development company based in Harrogate.

Tony Vincent, managing director of Crest Homes said: "The acquisition of such a magnificent site provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for us.

"To partner such a scheme is an incredibly exciting and challenging task but one which will be given the respect and consideration it duly deserves."

He added: "The scheme we are developing will reflect the town's architecture and status and we hope will enhance the already charming town of Ilkley."

Alan Hodgson, principal and chief executive at Bradford and Ilkley Community College, said: "The campus is a very important historical feature of the town and it was vital to ensure that any proposal was sensitive to the feelings and needs of those connected to the college, the town and its communities."

Because the site, containing around 100 staff and 400 students, was considered too expensive to run, BICC agreed to sell it off in 1994. The last students will leave in May next year.

Although college officials contacted commercial organisations, training companies and even Richard Branson's Virgin Group to see if they were interested in buying it, most people considered that a housing scheme would be the only viable development.

The site, which contains the Grade II listed Wells House, Hillside and Westwood Hostel as well as other buildings, is designated as a Major Urban Greenspace by Bradford planners.

Recently Tree Preservation Orders have been issued for woodland on the site further restricting development options.

For campaigners against the college closure - such as Ilkley parish councillor Roy Fox - the news of the sale was greeted with disappointed resignation.

"I knew it would go for house building - it is a shame really but it was inevitable," said Coun Fox.

"I fought hard to keep the college open - what we will have to do now is fight hard to make sure the development is sympathetic and fits in with the character of the town," he added.

Detailed planning applications for the site are expected to be submitted to Bradford Council in the near future.

Ilkley parish councillor Barbara Cussons said that the parish council's planning committee would closely monitor any applications submitted to assess their impact on the town.

But Mr Hodgson remained upbeat about the scheme. He said: "We have absolute confidence in our development partner's proposal and we are convinced that the proposed development will enhance the sites along Wells Road.

A spokesman for BICC and Crest Homes said they were not able to disclose how much the site had been sold for.

The sale agreement puts the future of Ilkley's internationally-renowned summer Ballet Seminars in doubt.

David Gayle, director, said that if another suitable venue in Ilkley could not be found, the seminars would have to continue elsewhere.

Over a period of 25 years the seminars have had the services of international experts, and they have become a an established and important part of the ballet world.

l Editorial comment on the sale of the college - Page 6

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