ASKHAM Bryan College has hit back after being branded a "predator college" in the House of Lords over its "betrayal" of a campus in Cumbria.

Principal and CEO Tim Whitaker said the claims were "false and misleading", and allegations of asset stripping, bankruptcy, insolvency, duplicity and secrecy were all "categorically untrue".

Lord Campbell-Savours spoke out in the House about the York college’s controversial decision to sell Newton Rigg in Penrith.

He said Newton Rigg had been "systematically run down by a predator college....behind a wall of limited financial reporting" and claimed there had been an "appalling betrayal of a 125 year-old historic county land-based educational institution by a team of Yorkshire accountants to pay off Askham Bryan’s escalating debts".

He claimed Askham Bryan had been methodically stripping Newton Rigg of its student body, assets, equipment, reputation, apprenticeships, land bank, excellence, high-quality staff and national reputation.

“Those who have been responsible for this outrage should hang their heads in shame as they now proceed to sell off its assets through estate agents Savills in a grand fire sale,” he said.

“What was once a viable institution, paying its way, has been driven through neglect into financial difficulty and ruin by Askham Bryan College.”

Lord Clark said Askham Bryan was in "dire financial straits and on the verge of bankruptcy", and hoped to avoid this by putting Newton Rigg up for sale, expecting a windfall of £12 million. “The young people are having their land-based college stolen from them.”

But he said there were solutions, and the Government should step in through the Education and Skills Funding Agency and sort out Askham Bryan’s debts.

He said this might involve spending money - "but far less than if they do nothing and let the closure of Newton Rigg and the asset sale proceed". He said the assets, including two farms, should be transferred to a Cumbrian educational trust to be held in perpetuity for Cumbrian people and their future education.

Mr Whitaker said Askham Bryan had followed a rigorous, 18-month independent review process of its Cumbrian campus which involved sector experts and was led by the Further Education Commissioner. “For 10 years we have strived to make the provision of education at Newton Rigg Campus sustainable and heavily subsidised the site, but, regrettably, it is not viable,” he said.

“Since 1992, four other educational organisations have also tried but not been able to make Newton Rigg sustainable and no obvious alternative providers have been identified since the decision to close was taken.”

He said Askham Bryan was legally within its rights to proceed with Newton Rigg’s closure and sale and this had been acknowledged by the Government.