James Dyson is considering backing out of plans to build a design school in Bath, following the beleaguered project’s latest setback.
The Government Office of the South West opted last week to launch an inquiry into plans for the Dyson School of Design Innovation, which the Environment Agency judges is at too high a risk of flooding.
‘This school was intended as a prototype that could be repeated around the country and its loss, or even delay, is deeply damaging to our economy at a time when we are only producing half the engineers we need,’ says Dyson.
The designer insists that the building, by architect Wilkinson Eyre, is safe, and is accusing the Environment Agency of stonewalling the £60m project, which aims to provide 2500 children and adults with design, technology and engineering training every week.
‘This isn’t a third runway at Heathrow, it is a school on a derelict piece of land in Bath. It is mind-boggling that MPs can be so scared of making a decision,’ Dyson tells Design Week. ‘My trustees will seriously consider whether it is worth going on.’
The school was flagged up as an example of good practice in the introduction of the Government’s White Paper on innovation last year. It also received support from Bath & North East Somerset Council, which passed planning permission for the building in March.
Dyson claims that the Environment Agency’s former chief executive Baroness Young ignored his attempts to contact her, which he calls ‘an undemocratic way for civil servants to behave’.
The Environment Agency’s Wessex area manager Nick Gupta calls Dyson’s comments ‘disappointing, particularly since this is an integral part of the democratic process’, and claims to have been working with the engineers and planners on the project for more than two years.
‘If the Government Office of the South West decides to pass it that would still delay the plans for another year, adding a lot of extra expense,’ says Dyson.
‘I am not sure that our trustees are willing to continue to pay out.’ Dyson will contact the school’s trustees next week to discuss how to proceed.
DYSON’S SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
The Dyson School of Design Innovation aims to offer design, technology and engineering training to:
• 14- to 16-year-olds from Bath and North East Somerset
• 16- to 19-year-olds from the South West
• Adults who wish to develop or update their skills