ASKHAM Bryan College has defended the decision to close Newton Rigg Campus in its response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Parliamentary Select Committee.

During the meeting, Tim Whitaker, chief executive officer and principal, and Judith Clapham, director of governance, answered questions from MPs about the Newton Rigg closure and agreed to submit supplementary written evidence following the virtual meeting.

In its response to the EFRA Committee, the College has addressed claims about the asset deed and financial position of Newton Rigg Campus and associated demographic data.

Tim Whitaker 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 exempt charity, we are legally able to continue with the Newton Rigg Campus closure and sale.”

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He continued: “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.”

There are 536 learners based at Newton Rigg this academic year. They are being supported with careers information, advice and guidance to help them plan their next steps, including course options locally and regionally, the College said. This includes a new revised land-based offer – a new partnership between Myerscough College and Ullswater Community College, which is also based in Penrith. Kendal College is also offering an additional, complementary range of courses.

Tim Whitaker added: “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.”

Newton Rigg Campus and Sewborwens Farm, in Penrith, and Low Beckside Farm, in Mungrisdale, are being put up for sale through Savills Estate Agents from 4 May 2021 onwards.

The College’s written evidence is available at the EFRA Committee website here.

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