CAMPAIGNERS hoping to keep an agricultural college open have called on the Government to take action to prevent land or assets from being sold.

A strategic review co-ordinated by the government’s further education commissioner, which began in June, turned down two bids to save Newton Rigg College at Penrith from closure.

Owner Askham Bryan College had received two bids to take over the site, including a multi-million pound bid from a cross-industry group, known as Newton Rigg Ltd.

But the commissioner concluded that neither of the bidding parties met the criteria to secure the long-term success of a potential new college, and it has recommended that the site should close in July 2021, as planned.

However on Christmas Eve, Newton Rigg Ltd said it has been in “fast-paced discussions with a major college that is keen to facilitate its proposals”, creating what it described as a “genuine opportunity” to save the college.

Andrew Cobb, chairman of Newton Rigg Ltd, said: “On December 18, the further education commissioner informed us that the main reason our bid was rejected was because we had, in the very short timeframe of the strategic review process, been unable to finalise an agreement with a partner college that would facilitate the transition of provision at Newton Rigg College from Askham Bryan’s ownership.

“However, we have since been engaged in fast-paced discussions with a significant college group who are actively exploring ways they will facilitate our proposals for the Newton Rigg College, with a shared commitment to the future of our community.

“We are working towards a supportive relationship, not another merger. This will enable a seamless transition with the aim of eventually establishing Newton Rigg College as an independent institution in its own right. We are confident that an agreement will be concluded soon after our meetings resume at the start of January 2021.

“Consequently, we have written to the further education commissioner and Dr Neil Hudson MP to outline this critical development and formally request that Askham Bryan College be prevented from selling any Newton Rigg land or assets while conversations continue and in any event not before the end of February 2021.

“The overriding purpose of the government’s strategic review was to promote and facilitate a stable and secure future for further education at Newton Rigg College; to prevent the stripping of educational assets from Cumbria and preserve the public benefit to our communities through education. For that reason, we hope that the Government will embrace this genuine opportunity to prevent Newton Rigg’s closure and that they will take immediate action.

“We welcome Neil Hudson MP’s hard work and genuine commitment to saving Newton Rigg College and will be calling on all local MPs to support us in our request.

“We would like to again reassure our community that this fight is not over.”

College principal Tim Whitaker previously said the governors, as trustees, had “a legal obligation to secure the best outcome for the charity”.

The Department for Education said any closure decision was up to the college’s governing body.

“The further education commissioner and the Education and Skills Funding Agency continue to work closely with the local authorities, and other stakeholders, to try and find a solution for retaining some education provision at Newton Rigg,” a spokesperson said.