A YORK college has revealed that its campus in Cumbria will go on the market today despite a storm of protests - and has insisted that the sale IS legal.

Askham Bryan College has been engulfed in controversy over the proposed closure and sale of Newton Rigg in Penrith, which culminated at a Defra select committee hearing in March, when MPs claimed the closure was an “absolute disgrace”and Askham Bryan was “financially failing” and needed to sell the site for £12 million to stave off insolvency.

Barry Gardiner MP also suggested the college had “played something of a three card trick”when it acquired Newton Rigg in 2011. He said Cumbria County Council had originally insisted upon an ‘asset deed’ to ensure facilities remained there for further education purposes in the future, but the asset deed had been nullified when Askham Bryan bought it.

But Tim Whitaker, Askham Bryan chief executive officer and principal, said that the college had never had the power to nullify the asset deed and did not nullify it when it acquired Newton Rigg. “As an independent, self-governing organisation and exempt charity, we are legally able to continue with the Newton Rigg Campus closure and sale,” he said.

Government Minister Gillian Keegan said it was true that a prospectus for the sale of Newton Rigg in 2010 did set out that a new provider would be expected to agree a new asset deed to protect further education assets at Newton Rigg.

But asset deeds were only used when further education assets were being transferred to other types of organisations, such as Higher Education Institutions, to ensure the assets were used and retained for the benefit of further education.

“As the outcome of the prospectus resulted in the transfer of the asset to Askham Bryan College, an asset deed was not required as they were an incorporated further education college whose core mission was and remains the delivery of further education.”

She said the disposal of Newton Rigg would ensure that Askham Bryan College could "sustain and safeguard its land-based provision delivered from its campus in York for the benefit of current and future learners, who enrol with the college from across the North of England".

Mr Whitaker said the college "strongly refutes" asset stripping claims by the MPs, after having invested £4.4 million in capital and incurred substantial losses supporting Newton Rigg.

He said: “For 10 years, we have strived to make the provision of education at Newton Rigg Campus sustainable and heavily subsidised the site during that time but, regrettably, it is not viable.” He said that although Askham Bryan College had faced financial challenges common across the FE sector, it had not required formal government and financial intervention from the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

He said student recruitment to the York campus remained "buoyant", with a 13 per cent rise in enrolments for 16-19 year olds this academic year, and the college had also attracted external investment through involvement in projects such as the Institute of Technology, Digital Skills Academy.