The government intends to bring legal action against the University of Lincoln over its plans to demolish parts of the current Riseholme College campus to develop housing.
Sir Edward Leigh, the Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, made the announcement on Friday, November 18 after receiving confirmation from the Department for Education.
As reported previously, the university has submitted plans for a £20 million redevelopment of its Riseholme campus off the A15, north of the city.
The scheme would include 180 new homes (previously 750) and agri-food and heritage education facilities.
Plans were met with objections from current tenant Bishop Burton College, local councillors and farmers.
The college’s tenancy expires in 2020, and it is today opening the second phase of its new Lincolnshire Showground campus, but it has previously stated the plans would “destroy opportunities for young people“.
MP Edward Leigh said at the opening of the campus’ new facilities: “I can also reveal today that the Department for Education, through the Skills Funding Agency, is taking steps to commence legal proceedings against the University of Lincoln over its plans to demolish the Riseholme Park Campus and replace it with a housing development.
“This unprecedented step has been confirmed to me in writing by the Skills Minister Robert Halfon.”
The government has said the value of the land is protected by an Asset Deed which was effected when the land was originally transferred from the Lincolnshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture in 1994 to De Montfort University, who subsequently transferred to Lincoln University.
Those backing legal action say the university should pay a sum for the value of the assets which they are no longer making available for the original purpose of further education.
An asset deed can secure repayment for the value of the assets held or disposed of by the university, it cannot prevent the sale of the land by the university.
Edward Leigh added: “The land and assets at Riseholme Park are protected by a legally binding Asset Deed and the SFA has said it will proceed with legal action to enforce the deed unless the University makes a satisfactory offer to settle the dispute.
“This is a hugely significant development and one which will hopefully protect the campus for future use by generations of Lincolnshire farmers and other workers.”
Jeanette Dawson, Chief Executive and Principal of Riseholme College, said: “The college is aware the Department of Education, through the Skills Funding Agency, has revealed it is taking steps to commence legal proceedings against the University of Lincoln over the Riseholme Park campus.
“The issue is about the future of land-based further education in Lincolnshire and I hope this matter is resolved for the good of our students and future generations.”
University ‘surprised at approach’
A University of Lincoln spokesperson said: “We are surprised that this should be raised in the media in this way as we are in ongoing discussions with the Skills Funding Agency and their advisors.
“Our Vice Chancellor, Professor Mary Stuart, and Professor Simon Pearson, Director of our Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, have a meeting planned with Sir Edward to discuss his concerns in the near future.
“The University has leading expertise in agri-food technology and is working closely with partners across the sector to develop education and research to support the future of farming and the food industries.”