Plans to close agricultural college 'unacceptable'
PROPOSALS to close an agricultural college campus next year will have be a “massive blow” for the land management and agriculture industry.
Newton Rigg College, in Penrith, which runs a variety of land-based agricultural courses, has been earmarked for closure next year after an independent review of the site found it was not financially viable.
The college, which has been affiliated with Askham Bryan College, in York, since 2011, currently offers courses in animal and equine management, forestry, gamekeeping, horticulture and agricultural engineering.
A consultation, which started on May 21, proposing the closure of the college at the end of the academic year in 2021, is currently underway.
Tim Whitaker, chief executive officer and principal at Askham Bryan College, said: “We understand the strength of feeling about Newton Rigg and the fact this will be upsetting news to our staff, students and the local community.
“We regret putting staff at risk of redundancy.
“However, the review has confirmed that the campus is not financially viable from the college’s perspective and would require ongoing investment to keep pace with industry skills.”
The college has long proved popular with dale youngsters training for a life on the land.
News of the potential closure has shocked agricultural and gamekeeping organisations and a cross party campaign has been launched by a number of local MPs with Tim Farron, MP for South Lakes, asking DEFRA to step in to safeguard the college’s future.
Mr Farron said: “It would be totally unacceptable for Newton Rigg College to close with a loss of 117 jobs and a loss of opportunity for generations to come.
“We should be investing hugely in producing, training and encouraging the coming generation of those who will care for our land and produce our food.
“That’s why I’ve written to George Eustice, the environment secretary to ask him to intervene to make Newton Rigg a national agricultural college.”
John Clarke, business manager for the National Gamekeeping Organisation, said: “Newton Rigg has one of the top courses for game keeping and has produced some fantastic keepers.
“If it closes it is a huge blow not just for gamekeeping but for agriculture.
“It has come as a shock and it does need saving. The standard of keepers coming out of Newton Rigg are first class with a 100 per cent employment record.”
Mr Clarke said if the campus was to close some students may not pursue careers in gamekeeping as it may not be financial viable for them to study away from home.
He added: “Having something like this on your doorstep is vital. I’ve already had parents of potential students in touch asking what they will do now.
“Whether it will be possible to save the college I don’t know. If it can’t be saved it will be a big blow for future generations and the environment if we lose these new students that will be looking after the landscapes of the future.
“It will be a very sad day if it does close. Hopefully it will have a lifeline thrown to it.”
Dorothy Fairburn, CLA director north, said: “The proposed closure of Newton Rigg College represents a major blow for every student, apprentice and employee at the college which has played a historic part as incubator for young people wanting to pursue a career in the countryside.
“We welcome the 12 month reprieve before the closure, and it is our sincere hope that during this period, a solution can be found to secure the future of the college for the sake of everyone who has a stake in it.
“The CLA’s Rural Powerhouse campaign emphasises the importance of agri-educational institutions and research facilities as key enablers for the rural economy in keeping its workforce equipped for an increasingly technology-led sector.”