SWINDON’S £20m university challenge has taken another step forward with the council’s commitment to a town centre location.

Swindon Council’s cabinet is expected to give the green light to the use of the old Clares Retail Equipment site, at North Star, as the location for any future university in the town.

The council are still in negotiations with the University of the West of England (UWE) over the prospect of them coming to Swindon and a meeting will be held with the university, financial backers and the council next week.

As well as a university building there is the potential for student accommodation on the site, although it is hoped that a majority of the students will come from Swindon.

The site has been derelict since the Clares factory, which made supermarket equipment such as trolleys and check-outs, closed last year.

Coun Phil Young, lead member for regeneration and economic development, said: “We have always said we are committed to having a university and we would like a town centre location because of the many benefits it would bring to Swindon.

“The Clares site is in our ownership so it is ideal but we also think it is the right location for a university in Swindon because of the campus feel to it – there is Swindon College and the research councils, but no university.

“There are many benefits this would bring to Swindon. It would start to address some of the educational aspirations of the town. It gives a very clear message that we have a multi-cultural approach to education.

“Having a university in Swindon would mean people being able to go through their entire education in their home town.

“We are also aiming for it to be vocationally based so it could create a real link with businesses.”

South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove said she completely agreed with the council’s stance.

She said: “I absolutely believe that a town centre location for the university is the best option. It would be a disaster for Swindon if the university went to Coate.

“UWE is a totally different prospect than the University of Bath – there will be fewer students and a large proportion are likely to come from Swindon, so a town centre location is ideal.”

The total build cost is estimated to be in the region of £20m. Almost £14m of that cost has already been promised by the Higher Education Funding Council and England and the South West Regional Development Agency, leaving at least a £6m funding gap, which could be provided by local businesses.

But the report that will be delivered to cabinet on Wednesday also warns that offering the Clares site to the university will put added pressure on the expected returns from other council sites, at a time of economic turmoil.

Other locations that have previously been considered for the university include Coate Water, Oakfield and the former Swindon College site.