Exclusive report: Potential new agricultural college on Newton Rigg site

  • Exclusive report by Ralph Blumson.

Campaigners who have been fighting to save a Cumbrian agricultural college now want to create a new education facility on or close to the existing site.

Newton Rigg campus near Penrith and its two farms have just been put on the market by its owners. Opponents of the closure are now making fresh appeals for funding to finance their plans. 

Andrew Counsell is a director of a community led organisation, Newton Rigg Limited, which has in the past tried unsuccessfully to buy the site.

Andrew Counsell, Newton Rigg Limited. Credit: ITV News

He told ITV Border: "We intend to start our own horticultural education within Cumbria, actually local to the Newton Rigg campus providing high quality education.

"We will then, hopefully, begin to work with other local businesses with the objective that within the year of starting to trade we will be looking into applying for apprenticeship status, in other words we will be able to provide modern apprenticeships to the land-based industries."

Prince Charles visit Beckside Farm which is part of Newton Rigg College and also for sale. Credit: PA

Helen Smith's runs a family farm near Windermere. She, her husband and her children have all been students at Newton Rigg. She is sad and angry that the farms and the campus are up for sale.

She said: "Newton Rigg was formed to promote good agricultural practises, good land practises for the people of Cumbria which is a difficult county because you've got this great big lump of mountain in the middle and yet it brings all the county together from the west coast, the south the north the east.  It's a very important institution."

Helen Smith, farmer. Credit: ITV News

She's welcoming the possibility of a new college being set up in the county. "That would be fantastic for all the future land based students", she said. "I'm not just talking farmers, i'm talking environmental students and forestry and everything linked to the land, it would be absolutely amazing, people would be overjoyed, it brings the county together."  

The Cumbrian Farmer Network says the closure of Newton Rigg will be felt by more than just students. A number of farming organisations have offices on campus. 

Adam Day said: "We're all effectively homeless from July, it's a huge shame and a great disappointment that way couldn't be found to save the campus, but we have to be pragmatic and move on."

Credit: ITV News

News that campaigners would like to start a new agricultural college is already being welcomed but at this stage it's unclear where the funding could come from.

The owners of Newton Rigg, the Askham Bryan College in Yorkshire, have told us they regret the impact of what they describe as a 'difficult closure decision.'

They say it is very disappointing a sustainable solution has not been found. They say they will engage with interested parties via the formal sales process.