Fight to save Newton Rigg continues after bids rejected

A strategic review has turned down two bids to save Newton Rigg College in Cumbria from closure, but the fight to secure land-based education at the site continues.

The review, co-ordinated by the government’s further education commissioner, began in June and it has been exploring options to find a potential new owner for the site in Penrith.

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.

See also: Multi-million pound rescue bid launched to save Newton Rigg

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.

A group, which includes local MP Neil Hudson, Eden District Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, has been given until early 2021 to see if they can form a reduced, alternative provision at the site, likely to be focused on land-based education.

In the meantime, Askham Bryan College will try to find a buyer, or multiple buyers, for the site.

College principal Tim Whitaker said he understood “the sense of disappointment among staff, students and stakeholders”.

“Given that the college is an exempt charity, the governors, as trustees, now have a legal obligation to secure the best outcome for the charity,” he added.

Newton Rigg Ltd chairman Andrew Cobb said he was “deeply disappointed and frustrated” that that review rejected their proposals.

But he vowed that the fight to “prevent this stripping of educational assets from Cumbria will continue”.

Make voices heard

He said: “Our message is this: Please ensure that your voice is heard by emailing Neil Hudson MP (or your local MP) and the secretary of state for education, Gavin Williamson MP. Every individual has the right to do this, and right now, every voice is important.”

Dr Hudson, Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, agreed the result of the review was disappointing but there was still hope.

“I firmly believe that Penrith needs Newton Rigg. The United Kingdom needs Newton Rigg,” he said on Twitter.

Established in 1896, Newton Rigg College has more than 100 staff and 536 students, comprising 440 further education students and 96 apprentices. It offers courses in agriculture, forestry, gamekeeping and equine management.

Newton Rigg College closure timetable

  • March 2020 Independent review, commissioned by parent college Askham Bryan, finds falling student numbers and financial losses means the site is unviable.
  • May 2020 Intended closure of the Newton Rigg campus announced by Askham Bryan.
  • July 2020 Askham Bryan initiates a second review, co-ordinated by the government’s further education commissioner.
  • 20 October 2020 Newton Rigg Ltd submits an expression of interest to maintain the college as an educational establishment.
  • 30 October 2020 Strategic review deadline for bids and proposals for the site.
  • 18 December 2020 Further education commissioner turns down two bids to save college, and sets an early 2021 deadline to see if a reduced, alternative education provision (likely to be land-based) at the site can be found.
  • July 2021 Planned closure (pending review outcome) of the Newton Rigg College, after students complete courses.

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