Rev Peter Cook, supporters and representatives from Unite with Sir Henry Bellingham. Picture: Paul Tibbs

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) confirmed this week it is to go ahead with plans to move its Bircham Newton operation to Peterborough.

A  statement on Wednesday said it would now “actively seek a new head office in Peterborough” to create a single modern office with the aim of moving by January 2020.

The news has been slammed by North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham who said he was “appalled” and claimed the decision was “illogical and ill thought-out”.

  Relocating places around 600 jobs at the West Norfolk site in jeopardy and is a major blow for campaigners who have handed over a 2,130-signature petition to Sir Henry in their fight to save the site.

Sir Henry has now called on CITB to abandon relocation as the only alternative and continue to consult on staying in the village.

Last year, CITB outlined in its Vision 2020 report that a third of the Bircham site’s 575-strong workforce could relocate while two thirds could work remotely. 

The company is also set to stop training staff at the National Construction College and outsource departments.

However, this week’s announcement said its chief executive Sarah Beale, the executive team and the board believed Peterborough was the right location to meet the “future needs of the business” and would bring CITB’s 11 sites together in a modern office.

Sir Henry said it was “totally contrary” to what CITB had been promising.

He said he had been given a recent assurance by CITB’s chairman Peter Lauener consultation on the headquarters would continue until the autumn and CITB would continue to listen to suggestions about retaining the Bircham site.

But now, he said it appeared a “done deal”.

He said moving would be “costly and disruptive” and would remove senior managers from the site at a time when they were needed to “oversee the relationship with the new training provider and drive forward the master plan for the site”.

The CITB statement said Peterborough was the preferred location as it had a ‘strong local talent pool, modern offices and excellent road and rail links’.

It also said CITB would continue to consult with unions and representatives with the aim of “reducing redundancies and mitigating the impact of the changes”.

CITB officers said they were mindful of the impact of the reforms on staff and the change would be a “challenge as well as an opportunity”.

Peterborough was also said to be the preferred location as it offered the “greatest potential to reduce redundancies”.

Mr Lauener said both he and the chief executive were committed to do all they could to “maximise the development” of the Bircham site and leave a “lasting legacy for the local community and the economy of North Norfolk”.

Campaigner college chaplain Peter Cook handed a petition to Sir Henry last Friday. Rev Cook, whose parish includes Bircham, said the response was “remarkable for a set of five villages with a combined population of approximately 2,650 men, women and children”.

He said it reflected the overwhelming support for CITB in the villages.

An online petition produced a further 871 signatures and union Unite presented a further petition from staff from CITB offices and training across the country.