MID Sussex Labour Party members have criticised a college merger, claiming it will limit the availability of education in the area for pupils aged 16 and over.

The comments follow the announcement of the merger between Central Sussex College, which closed its Haywards Heath campus at the end of the summer term, and Chichester College to form what will now be known as Crawley College.

Greg Mountain, chairman of Haywards Heath Labour Party, said he and his fellow party members were “dismayed” that those aged 16-plus seeking education in Mid Sussex “have to travel outside of the town to get it, for the foreseeable future”.

Mr Mountain repeated his previous calls for Conservative councillors and Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames to immediately focus on restoring the Haywards Heath campus of Central Sussex College.

He said: “During the recent county council and General Election campaigns local residents told me and party activists that not having a college in Haywards Heath is shameful and for some it means they cannot afford to send students to Brighton or Horsham.

“To obtain education after 16, people from Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill must travel outside Mid Sussex, unless they attend St Paul’s school.

“It lays bare the local Conservative Party attitude to education.

“It has no desire to ensure local students can reach their full potential, unless they are prepared to pay for it.

“This is a disgrace when we need to improve skill levels in society to face the future in an uncertain world.”

Since the 2015 General Election, there has been an increase in the number of college mergers and a new option for sixth form colleges to become academies for students aged between 16 and 19.

The Government’s post 2016 area review required every college to consider its future and provided official encouragement for mergers.

The review concluded that improved financial sustainability through cost savings can be attributed to the formation of a federation of colleges or mergers.

It highlighted the Crawley College merger as an “urgent and important recommendation to arise” from the review.

Mr Mountain added: “The Labour Party wants everyone to have the chance to realise their potential in life.

“We will continue to campaign for 16-plus education provision in Haywards Heath. Everyone benefits from a well educated society.”

The merger will create the largest college group in Sussex, providing opportunities for around 25,000 students each year.

Shelagh Legrave has been appointed chief executive officer for the group.

She is joined by Kieran Stigant, who takes on the position of chairman of the corporation.

A new principal – Vicki Illingworth – has also been appointed for Crawley College.

Mr Stigant said: “We are looking forward to working in partnership with local businesses and organisations to ensure we are able to deliver a diverse and employer-led curriculum that meets their skills and workforce requirements.”