An education hub next to the Waterside Theatre could be built by 2015 after district council agreed to contribute more than £16 million towards the project.
The Aylesbury Centre (formerly known as The Waterside Academy before a recent name change) would specialise in further education and be run as a joint venture between Aylesbury College and Bucks New University, known as BEST.
District council and BEST are currently in negotiations over a 25 year lease period with a fixed interest rate and an option of buying the building.
The parties are targeting August to agree the lease and sign the contract with an aim of completing the building in Easter 2015.
Council leader John Cartwright said: “I am very pleased that the council has taken the decision to release the funding, allowing us to deliver on our ambition to build a new education centre and complete the Waterside development to the south of Exchange Street.”
The four-storey building in Walton Street would contain two restaurants and café open to the public while BEST would manage the two other floors.
UKIP leader Chris Adams raised several concerns and said: “It looks like BEST are getting this on the cheap. Have we got enough car parking spaces? The roads are already gridlocked at this moment in time.
“Are there going to be as many students going to university in 25 years? There’s already too many going and coming out with huge tuition fees debts.
“I would like some more consultation rather than being railroaded like this.”
Vice Chancellor of Bucks New University, Professor Ruth Farwell, said: “At the heart of our discussion is meeting employers’ needs and ultimately stimulating further economic growth in Aylesbury and across Bucks as a whole. The opportunity would be a positive and economically beneficial development for Aylesbury and the surrounding areas.”
Conservative councillor Phil Yerby, who was unable to attend the meeting, had previously expressed fears about the commercial benefits the centre had. He said: “Many taxpayers will quite rightly be alarmed as to why we are giving our assets away so cheaply.”
Lib Dem councillor Corry Cashman said the report was missing key facts and figures to back up the project. He also said the Waterside development as a whole lacked an identity and coordination.
But resources chief councillor Neil Blake assured members they were merely agreeing to continue negotiations and that the project would provide a commercial return.
Councillors Chris Richards, Peter Cooper, Michael Beall, Chris Adams, Andy Huxley and Robin Stuchbury all abstained from the council vote.
Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones originally planned for the site to be the headquarters of his National Enterprise Academy. However, the tycoon pulled out of the plans last year but the council pressed on with building an educational hub there.
The successful completion of this project could mean that for the first time, students would be able to study degree level courses in Aylesbury, and they would be a wide variety of professional and commercial courses available.
Pauline Odulinski, Principal of Aylesbury College added: “We are excited by the possibilities this new idea presents. The education would be employer-led, developing multi and cross-disciplinary workforce skills, and would be directly linked to meeting the skills needs of identified local industry sectors.”