Friday brief: Clock ticks but still no answers on leisure centre
Plus our usual round up of Northamptonshire news
North Northamptonshire Council’s executive was accused of ‘lacking leadership’ last night, as just ten days remain before Kettering’s only leisure centre closes.
A large crowd turned out to protest about the proposed closure of Kettering Conference Centre - which is due to close on July 3.
Operator Compass, which subleases the centre from Phoenix Leisure, had announced to staff and users in May that the centre, which houses a theatre, gym and conference facilities would be closing.
Since then the unitary authority has been in discussions with the two companies, but despite giving assurances to the public that an update would be given, it has not happened, with staff and users unsure of what the current situation is.
At the full council last night a motion put forward by independent councillor Jim Hakewill suggested the council should step in to save the centre and devise a business plan. Up until yesterday the issue had not been discussed in public, despite a number of opportunities for the ruling executive to table it. The council’s finance portfolio holder Lloyd Bunday, left the meeting yesterday after declaring an interest because the leisure centre is a client.
Cllr Hakewill accused the council, which is led by Jason Smithers, of being out of its depth in dealing with the matter.
“The political leadership has been found wanting at every single stage” he said.
And Green party councillor Emily Fedorowycz said the council had not afforded the public respect, by not giving them enough information about what had been happening behind the scenes in recent weeks.
Kettering town councillor Clark Mitchell, was one of the public speakers and said the former borough council had handed over £34m from reserves when the council closed to make way for the unitary - while the other borough council’s ‘went on spending sprees’. He urged the conservatives to invest in Kettering, which in recent years has been in decline.
“You are all temporary,” he told them. “What is real and permanent are people and the residents of North Northamptonshire.”
The captain of the hugely successful Northampton Saints wheelchair rugby team, Gerry McCrory, told how the venue was the only one in the county that had the right accessibility for the team’s training.
“Individuals’ quality of life will be shattered if the doors are closed,” he told the councillors.
However executive member Helen Howell, who has the leisure portfolio, suggested an amendment to Cllr Hakewill’s motion, changing the wording about the council stepping in to ‘ consider the viability of stepping in’ and including a need for any business plan to go before the council’s scrutiny committee. It also said a budget (if required) should be set by July 3.
Cllr Howell told the meeting that while the authority could not give the public the answers they had been looking for, herself, the council's leader and officers had been in constant discussion with the operators. She said the legal implications of giving information ‘to all in sundry’ would put the council in a serious legal position.
The motion, which was voted against by the opposition, went through.
In a moment of farce, monitoring officer Adele Wylie said the timings laid out in the motion would not be achievable and there would not be time to convene the necessary meetings before July 3.
So as it stands, unless a solution is found, the centre will close in seven working days.
The crowds who had filled the public gallery at Corby Cube, were very despondent as they filed out of the building, and a number had heckled Tory councillors when they spoke during the meeting.
However council leader Jason Smithers has form for last minute interventions.
Back in 2022 he adjourned a meeting and came back with an offer of several hundreds of thousands of pounds to ensure Pen Green Centre in Corby and other nurseries did not face the proposed funding cuts.
He repeatedly told the meeting last night that his administration agreed that they should save the centre. However no details of how, finances, or any terms were given.
And independent councillor Martin Griffith said after the meeting that he thought a deal could be done.
“Something is going to happen,” he said: “Perhaps an extension to the existing arrangement.”
News in brief
A wellingborough-based doctor who sexually harassed a colleague while at work has been suspended for three months.
Dr David Darby was working at the Isebrook Hospital when he asked the woman if she was menopausal, if she still ovulated and other personal questions.
Dr Darby was also found to have told the woman in June 2017 that: “If you lose a stone, I will give you a massage”, or words to that effect.
A medical panel said he still had “not yet demonstrated that he accepts responsibility for sexually harassing a colleague” and had instead “offered apologies for creating a situation during which [the woman] supposedly misinterpreted his actions”.
The woman told investigators that she was “absolutely shocked at what he was saying”, had been “embarrassed” and told him: “You can’t really ask those sorts of questions.”
His registration will be suspended for 28 days unless he lodges an appeal. If he does appeal, he will be able to practise until the outcome of any appeal is known.
Report by Nathan Briant, Local democracy reporter
West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) had more than 17,000 fly-tipping incidents reported to it in the year running up to March, according to its own figures.
The authority has said clearing up the mess costs it more than £750,000 every year.
Council leader cllr Jonathan Nunn said the total of 17,301 – which equates to about 47 illegal dumpings a day – was “a massive number”.
“[It causes] huge costs, sadly that number is growing. There is a lot of work going on to deal with that problem”, he told councillors at a cabinet meeting on June 13.
Across the county in North Northamptonshire, far fewer fly-tips were recorded. That authority said it had about 3,000 reported throughout 2022.
Both councils regularly report prosecutions of fly-tippers in their areas.
WNC said it issued 3,092 fixed penalty notices for environmental crime through 2022/23.
By Nathan Briant
The Northampton murder trial of primary school teacher Fiona Beal has been halted and will be re-held later in the year. Beal is accused of murdering long-term partner Nicholas Billingham, who she says psychologically abused her for many years. She admits killing him and burying his body in the home of their Northampton home in late 2021. His body was found months later after Beal tried to end her own life.
The trial, which has been running for several weeks and was nearing its conclusion, has been stopped for legal reasons and the judge has imposed a reporting restriction which prevents the media from giving more detail.
Another stabbing has happened on the same Northampton Road on which a teenager was killed.
Northamptonshire police say the man, who is in his 40s, was approached outside KFC on Harborough Road and stabbed in his side.
He was taken to hospital for treatment to his injury which is not life-threatening or changing.
Rohan ‘Fred’ Shand was killed on the same road as he walked home from school on March 22.
A motion will go before West Northamptonshire Council next week which suggests having an annual anti-knife week; that all councillors sign a pledge to become an anti-violence champion and the council’s community safety partnership develop an action plan tracking recommendations made in recent serious case reviews into teenage deaths, which includes the killing of Wellingborough’s Dylan Holliday, 16.
The paywall has been removed from this story from Tuesday - so in case you haven't read it, here’s how Northants MPs voted on the Boris Johnson report.
🌳 A forest bathing session is happening tonight at Salcey Forest to mark the summer solstice. Starting at 5.30pm, you can book your place here. Over 18s only.
🍕 A Summer Saturday event will take place tomorrow from 11am to 4pm at Kettering Market Place. Djs, live music, street food and games on offer.
🚪 Tours of Abington Park Museum in Northampton are happening on Sunday from 2pm. Book here.