THE closure of a 200-year-old Catholic college will begin tomorrow with the axing of some of its commercial activities, it has been claimed.

Organisers of a campaign to save Ushaw College, near Durham City, say its ancillary activities, including its conference and tourism work, will cease on New Year’s Eve, ahead of the seminary closing in June.

In a petition to the Most Rev Patrick Kelly, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, and college trustees, they call for closure to be forestalled until a “proper study” of the options has been carried out and a public debate conducted.

They write: “We are mindful that the extensive buildings, including the architecturally meritorious chapel dedicated to St Cuthbert, were paid for by earlier generations of Catholics, who, no doubt, expected their generosity to extend to future generations in perpetuity.

“We are also mindful of the immense contribution that Ushaw College has made in the past 200 years to the cultural, educational and religious history of the north of England, particularly as the alma mater of many thousands of Catholic priests.”

In eight days, the online petition, which is at ipetitions.

com/petition/ushaw, has attracted 233 signatures.

The first signatory, Peter Hope, wrote: “This needs to be publicly discussed as this decision also affects the local communities in which it resides and the whole North-East England community – communities which in the past have played an integral part of the college’s 202-year success.”

St Cuthbert’s Seminary moved to Ushaw College from revolutionary France in 1808 and in its heyday was training hundreds of priests.

However, there are currently just 26 seminarians and trustees began consultation on closure in mid-November.

The proposals put about 60 jobs at risk and concerns have been raised over the college’s priceless historic treasures and renowned Georgian buildings.

An early day motion which expresses fears about the issue, tabled in the House of Commons by Pat Glass, MP for North-West Durham, has attracted the signatures of 15 MPs.

The Durham Times contacted the college’s communications company for comment on the petition, the claims and the status of the consultation but none was provided.