A community organisation fighting the closure of Newton Rigg has said “key questions must still be answered” regarding its closure.
Newton Rigg Ltd, which describes itself as “an expert-led community organisation”, said “key questions must still be answered” regarding Askham Bryan College’s proposed closure and sale of Newton Rigg College’s assets, land and farms.
The York-based college has announced its intention to market the assets for sale from May 4.
A spokesman from Newton Rigg Ltd said: “Thursday’s letter from the chairman of the EFRA Committee to the Secretary of State not only highlighted the wider importance of land-based education but clearly outlined many of the critical questions that must still be answered regarding Askham Bryan College’s proposed sale of Newton Rigg, one of the country’s most important and longest-standing agricultural colleges, as well as the ‘policy mistake’ that placed these precious Cumbrian assets at risk when they were transferred to Askham Bryan College’s ownership back in 2010/11.
“Newton Rigg’s land and buildings, with a market value of £8.3m, were transferred to Askham Bryan College for nothing in 2011 on the basis that educational provision would continue.
“The chair’s letter recognised that during this process, the ‘policy decision’ to release Askham Bryan College from the restrictions of a long-standing asset deed, intended to protect Newton Rigg’s assets for educational use and remove the risk of the disaster we face today, ‘appears to have been a mistake’.”
For Cumbria to lose Newton Rigg College – and its only specialist land-based educational provision – as the result of a ‘policy mistake’ is beyond unacceptable, the group said.
Newton Rigg Ltd is raising funds via a crowdfunding campaign to support its ‘urgent action plan’ to save Newton Rigg, rebuild land-based education in Cumbria, and open a new independent Newton Rigg College on the site.
Askham Bryan College has strongly defended its decision to close Newton Rigg campus.
Tim Whitaker, chief executive officer and principal, Askham Bryan College, said: “We regret the impact of the difficult closure decision on our Newton Rigg Campus students and staff and understand that feelings continue to run high within the Cumbrian community and beyond. It is very disappointing that a sustainable solution for Newton Rigg Campus has not been found.
“We welcomed discussing the future of national land-based education with the EFRA Committee given our expertise within the sector, and we also welcomed the opportunity to respond to some misleading claims about the closure of our Cumbrian campus.
“Our response confirms that the college has never had the power to nullify the asset deed, therefore, the college did not nullify the deed when it acquired the Newton Rigg site in 2011 and, as an independent, self-governing organisation and an exempt charity, we are legally able to continue with the Newton Rigg Campus closure and sale.”
He added: “The college strongly refutes asset-stripping claims having invested £4.4 million in capital and incurring substantial losses supporting the site.
“For 10 years we have strived to make the provision of education at Newton Rigg Campus sustainable and heavily subsidised the site during that time but, regrettably, it is not viable.
“Since 1992, four other educational organisations have also tried but not been able to make Newton Rigg sustainable and no obvious alternative providers have been identified since the decision to close was taken.
“We have a responsibility to invest in and ensure the very best experience for all Askham Bryan College students across all our campuses.
“Although Askham Bryan College has faced financial challenges that are common across the further education sector, it has not required formal government and financial intervention from the Education and Skills Funding Agency. We are doing all we can to support our Newton Rigg students and staff at this difficult time.”