IT WAS a very welcome return to a Basingstoke college for a Government minister as he officially opened a multi-million-pound arts and IT building.

MP Jim Knight, Minister of State for Schools, unveiled a special plaque inside The Allen Building at Queen Mary's College to the rapturous applause of college staff and students.

Mr Knight, who worked as manager of QMC's arts centre, Central Studio, in the mid-80s, said it was a pleasure to be back at the college following a 16-year absence.

He said: "After 16 years, it's good to see the quality of teaching here hasn't changed.

"We have got something to be very proud of here."

The £2.5million building is part of a £12m development programme that the college has been undertaking since 1998. It will provide some of its 2,300 students with access to state-of-the-art computer suites, photography, graphics and fine-art studios.

The striking three-storey construction of glass, black steel and cedar cladding was named in memory of the late borough and county councillor Don Allen, who was chairman of QMC governors from 1992 until 2004.

His widow Sheila was among those present at the unveiling ceremony.

QMC principal Stephen Sheedy said: "The opening of this building marks Queen Mary's College as a major provider of creative education in the region and we are proud to be able to offer our students and staff this new and exciting working environment."

The art and IT students present at the unveiling ceremony were very impressed with the new building.

Torie Burford, 18, from Tadley, who is studying textiles, photography and graphics, said: "There are bigger rooms, more rooms, and it looks a lot nicer too."