£750K lost as glass atrium plan shatters

March 12, 2004

Lecturers have reacted furiously to news that Luton University has lost £750,000 on an abandoned project to build an atrium at its main campus.

Luton reported in its annual accounts this year that it had written off £747,000 of "development costs for one of its construction projects", and The Times Higher has learnt that the sum relates to a decision to abandon plans for a £7 million glass-fronted extension to its main Park Square building.

Roger Kline, head of the universities department at lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "Natfhe is astonished that the university has spent vast sums on plans for a fancy glass atrium that will not be built, while yet again making lecturers redundant.

"It's about time this institution took a long hard look at its priorities.

This is just the latest in a series of poor management decisions and it's time someone was held to account."

Luton confirmed in January that up to 34 members of staff might be made compulsorily redundant in a fresh cost-cutting exercise. It said the move was necessary because of underfunding and the loss of government grants due to falling student numbers.

Natfhe claimed that the university was shedding 100 staff - about 10 per cent of its workforce.

The atrium project was conceived under Dai John, Luton's former vice-chancellor.

In a newsletter last March, the university said the glass-fronted extension was "the biggest single investment" in Luton's facilities. It said the extension would provide a new entrance to the main building and would create a "student plaza" with seating and meeting places "combined with small retail outlets and coffee bars".

In a statement this week, Les Ebdon, Luton's vice-chancellor, said the university had decided to invest £5.5 million in a media arts centre instead.

"The university planned to build the plaza to create more social space and made some initial investment. But I felt it was more important to enhance the teaching and learning environment.

"We are among the top three universities in the country for media arts and, with the new centre, we are aiming for the top slot," Professor Ebdon said.

"We could not afford both projects at the same time and so we technically wrote off the money spent to date."

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