Guest columnist: We must continue to produce farmers of the future

Sir Edward Leigh
Sir Edward Leigh

As one of the most agricultural counties in England, it is vital that we here in Lincolnshire make sure our young people develop the skills to help secure the future of English farming.

I was honoured to visit Riseholme College’s new campus at Lincolnshire Showground to open phase two of this state of the art facility.

Already, £24.5 million has been invested in this new campus, and the second phase was made possible when the Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership secured a £7.5 million grant from the Government’s Single Growth Fund.

Unfortunately the sterling work done by Riseholme College has been hampered by the lack of access to the farming land around the college’s traditional home owing to a complicated legal dispute with the University of Lincoln.

This campus was transferred from the Lincolnshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture to De Montfort University in 1994, with an asset deed that attached conditions to the transfer. De Montfort subsequently transferred the site to the University of Lincoln, which has refused to renew the college’s lease.

More recently, the University of Lincoln lodged a planning application to build an extensive housing development on this site which had been employed in land-based education of our future farmers and agricultural innovators.

Originally, they had planned to build more than 700 homes on the site and they are still planning to build, in my view, a totally unsustainable 180 homes there.

I have spoken with residents and local councillors and there are strong objections to the university’s plans.

At Riseholme’s Lincolnshire Showground campus the other day, I was pleased to announce that the Government, through the Skills Funding Agency, is taking legal action against the University of Lincoln.

This unprecedented step was confirmed to me in a letter from my colleague Robert Halfon MP, the skills minister.

Our hope is that this will protect land-based agricultural education here in Lincolnshire, with the asset deed obliging the university to pay a sum for the value of the assets it is no longer making available for the original purpose of further education.

Looking abroad, we recently hosted in the House of Commons the launch of a report into persecuted Christians and other religious minorities undertaken by the excellent charity Aid to the Church in Need.

At the launch we heard from the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church as well as a Muslim imam and the director of a centre for Jewish-Christian relations in Jerusalem.

All of them were united in pointing out that worldwide it is Christians who make up the overwhelming majority of victims of persecution.

The Speaker allowed the Palace of Westminster to join the abbey, Westminster Cathedral, and other buildings in being lit up in red at night to highlight the cause of these suffering people abroad.

It is important that people in this country stand up for the rights of Christians everywhere and show solidarity with those facing death and persecution for their faith.