Full effect of Waterside's economic boost will not be felt in Northampton until term starts next week

Vice chancellor Nick Petford has given his first interview with the Chonicle and Echo since the full opening of the new Waterside campus.
Vice chancellor Nick Petford has given his first interview with the Chonicle and Echo since the full opening of the new Waterside campus.

Northampton will not feel the real impact of the £350 million new Waterside campus until the new freshers are joined by their second and third year counterparts next week, the man in charge at the univesity says.

With 1,000 new students having spent their first week at the giant new learning village just off Becket's Park, vice Chancellor Nick Petford says the town is already starting to feel the economic effects of the relocated campus.

It is estimated the expanded university could contribute some £300 million-a-year to the local economy in terms of student spending, job procurement and employment.

But with the 1,000-strong cohort of freshers still finding their way in a new town, Mr Petford believes the return of the second and third years next week will have a dramatic effect - completing the 12,000 quota set to study at Waterside.

He said: "The students have clearly come from all over Britain so they are finding their way, getting settled in.

"As any fresher will know it's daunting moving away from home for the first time.

"But when the second and third years return next week, that's when you will see the real difference.

"Those students know the town already and when you combine that with combined with what the students' union are doing at the Platform Club and the events they are running in the town.

"All of those things will come together through the autumn - we are looking forward to an exciting and vibrant Christmas."

While Mr Petford says enrolment week at Waterside has gone largely withourt a hitch, there are challeneges to overcome.

"The snagging list is big," he said.

"There are a whole range of things from minor plumbing not working to issues with the WiFi and the IT systems, but all those things are being worked through an resolved.

"But when you think, even when you move into a house there are snagging issues, this is a £350 million house.

"Everything to do with enrolement has gone smoothly though."

However, the overspill of cars using the new campus is already creating friction nearby.

Residents in Far Cotton have complained staff and students are using their residential streeets to leave their vehicles, in some cases blocking driveways.

People attending the university can use a park and ride bus, which leaves Sixfields every 15 minutes.

But the campus opening has brought to the fore the need to establish a similar scheme in the eastern approach to Waterside, as many arriving from the Barnes Meadow interchange are having to drive past the university to park in the west before returning back on a bus.

Mr Petford said moves were afoot to resolve the problem "in the next 12 months".

He said: "Negotiations are ongoing, but as soon as we can develop a park and ride to the east of the campus it will be better - and hopefully we will be able to open one in the north as well.

"Part of the issue is, because of the complexity and the challenge with the county council - this isn't a priority for them at this time - even though it is a priority for us.

"The borough and county own land all around this site, so the onus is on them to provide the land and the lease - we are ready to go on this tomorrow but our hands are totally tied.

"It's important people understand it's not the university - it's an issue outside of our control."

Short-term issues aside, Mr Petford believes the attractive new complex will have far-reaching effects for Northampton.

In the futture, acres of undeveloped land dotted around the campus could be home to further teaching blocks. Within two years its Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) will sit alongside its sports pitches in what could be a major draw for those wanting to enter the fashion industry.

Talented graduates, he says, may be less tempted to return to London and Birmingham to start work after studying at the facility.

That said, Mr Petford was adamant the attractive new setting would not lead to a cranking up of the entry requirements to study in Northampton, even though university leaue tables give them heavy weighting.

"Our mission is to believe in people," he said. "To give them a second chance.

"That's why we are not going to be that high on the league tables.

"It doesn't mean our standards are not high."