A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry has left MPs with a clear impression that land-based education needs to continue at closure-hit Newton Rigg College in Penrith.

Following a one-off evidence session on land-based education provision in England, MPs on the House of Commons EFRA Committee, are to raise concerns about national delivery of education for agriculture and the environment, which includes continued land-based education provision at Newton Rigg.

During the evidence session, Tim Whittaker, CEO of owners Askham Bryan College in York, was called as one of the witnesses and faced a barrage of questions from MPs, and afterwards, Julia Aglionby, Armathwaite farmer and Executive Director - England, Foundation for Common Land, described how the questioning by a well briefed Barry Gardiner MP had left Mr Whittaker 'floundering and repeatedly asking if he could respond in writing later.'

"Mr Gardiner’s questioning focused on two key points; the nullification of the Asset Deed limiting the use of the Newton Rigg’s assets for further education and training and secondly the exposure that Newton Rigg is being sold to prop up a financially shaky college in Yorkshire. We were told Askham Bryan’s 2020 Accounts are qualified by their Accountant to say that unless they sell off Newton Rigg sharpish Askham Bryan was unlikely to remain a going concern. Newton Rigg is currently valued at £12 million," said Ms Aglionby.

Dr Whittaker said he has legal advice that the incumbencies of the Asset Deed were removed so they are free to sell Newton Rigg’s assets and that as a charity they are obliged to achieve a market price. Barry Gardner told us about a Deed of Release signed on 29th July 2011 – All provisions of the Asset Deed that had been in force since the transfer to UCLAN and the University of Cumbria were it is claimed terminated when this Deed of Release was signed," she added.

Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border, Member of the EFRA Select Committee, said: "We were able to ask questions of Askham Bryan about their actions as they depart Newton Rigg and have asked for more clarifying information on this. It is so important for Cumbria that they do the right thing and ensure a smooth transition as we move into the next chapter of trying to secure a future for a new Newton Rigg.”

Cumbrian Peer, Dale Campbell-Savours, said : "The Askam Bryan case for an asset strip and fire sale of assets at Newton Rigg was destroyed in a cross party attack on the whole closure programme. ”

Tim Whitaker said in a statement: "We welcomed the opportunity to discuss the difficult decision, and reasons for the closure of Newton Rigg Campus and what this means for the future of local and national land based education. We recognise that this is an issue that the Cumbrian community, including students, staff, and wider stakeholders, continue to feel strongly about.”