Friday brief: Councillors full of questions about future of Kettering’s conference centre
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A special meeting about the future of Kettering’s under-threat conference centre has heard lots of questions from councillors.
Yesterday the Conservative executive of North Northamptonshire Council agreed to go ahead and draw up a business case for the running of the centre, following the departure of operator Compass Contracts Services Ltd (CCSL), which earlier this year said it was no longer viable for it to run the popular leisure and entertainment facility.
Current leaseholder Phoenix Leisure Management (PLMS) , which had sub-leased to Compass - have agreed to operate the venue from the end of this month with a two month handover period.
However the report which was discussed by councillors indicates there is still the possibility that Phoenix could decide to close the venue down the line if it does not prove to be profitable.
“To support the above transfer and to support PLMS stepping in to operate KLV and reduce the likelihood of its closure, the Council agreed, in principle, to a two-year temporary amendment of the obligation on PLMS to use best endeavours to stay open, requiring PLMS to use reasonable endeavours to keep the sporting facilities open.
“Whilst the solution outlined above does not permanently secure the future of KLV or prevent its closure, it has prevented the immediate closure of the building, and provided time for the Council’s tenant to consider other operators it may wish to work with.”
The closure had put hundreds of jobs at risk and many service users came out against the closure. The venue has a theatre, a number of sports halls, a well-used gym, numerous squash and badminton courts and three bars.
However at the meeting some concerns were raised about the agreement between the council and PLMS going forward. The authority currently contributes £330,000 per year to help subsidise the venue.
Labour’s Anne Lee had a number of concerns. Bringing up the lack of a mention of a notice period and the change of wording meaning that Phoenix would now be tied to ‘reasonable endeavours’ rather than ‘best’ endeavours she said:
“NNC is making it easier, not harder, for Phoenix to pull out. The tenant could choose to close the centre if it is unviable. Phoenix still gets a carrot but you lose the stick.
“It can milk the resource, not put in an ounce of investment, run it into the ground and in two years time NNC will be left with the pieces.
“Where is Phoenix - can we hear from them please?”
Conservative Cllr Dorothy Maxwell questioned the costs to the authority that any new business case could bring.
She said: “Are we running at cost? This has not been spelt out.
“I feel we need more information and quick.”
Executive member Cllr Matt Binley said the details were ‘commercially sensitive and could not be detailed in the report.
“The approach has been to work with Phoenix and Compass to try and keep the centre open now and that has been done for the next two years. It is not a long term solution, it is a short term solution.”
He said the business plan would be scrutinised before it was signed off by the executive.
News in brief:
The complaints are continuing against the county’s police fire and crime commissioner after his controversial appointment of a close friend to the chief fire officer role.
The leader of the labour group on West Northamptonshire Council Wendy Randall has written to her party’s shadow policing minister Sarah Jones MP for advice on how to hold Stephen Mold to account for his actions.
The undisclosed legal advice he used to bypass the county’s police, fire and crime panel looks to have been wrong, and Nicci Marzec stood down from the chief fire officer role ten days later. Mold has refused to resign despite calls from many quarters including the Fire Brigades Union.
Cllr Randall wrote:
“As Shadow Policing Minister, we ask you to inform us of what powers there are available to call Commissioner Mold to account for his actions. We also ask what mechanism there is to remove a commissioner from office for not declaring an interest in the appointment of a chief officer and failure to inform the scrutiny and overview panel?
“In addition, since we have no Labour MPs here in West Northamptonshire, we request you raise our concerns over Commissioner Mold and this incident with the relevant members and ministers.
“Any additional information on how best to make our stand on this matter of national embarrassment for our county would also be welcomed.”
Independent councillor Ian MCCord made a complaint to the panel which has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Cllr McCord alleges Mold has committed the crime of misconduct in public office and also has made several breaches of the code of conduct.
An IOPC spokesperson said:
“We have received a mandatory referral from the Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Panel following a complaint made against the current Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. We are currently assessing the referral to determine whether an investigation is required.”
The panel will meet on September 7 to ask the commissioner questions about his recent actions. It will be a public meeting.
The jury in the Fred Shand murder trial is still deliberating. After closing speeches, the jury was sent out on Wednesday to consider its verdict. Two teenage boys are accused of killing Fred Shand, who died on Harborough Road, Northampton after being stabbed as he walked home from school in March.
🎻 International musicians Andres Kaljuste and Sophia Rahman will be appearing in concert at Lamport Hall, tomorrow at 7.30pm. They will play pieces of scandinavian music and more information and booking here
📘 Northampton Comic Con is happening on Sunday from 10am to 4pm at the Benham Sports Centre in Kings Park Road, Northampton.