Corby’s treasured Connaughty Centre has been sold by the government in a behind-closed-doors deal.
The youth centre was built by the people of Corby for youngsters in the town in 1967 - but none of the £290,000 proceeds will go directly back to the town. Instead they will go into a government pot for housing development.
It emerged this week that the centre in Cottingham Road was sold in April to the Living Faith Temple by Homes England.
Local people have reacted with sadness at the sale of the much-loved building, which was named after the town’s grande dame Nellie Connaughty.
It was home to numerous youth groups and community organisations over the years and was a lifeline for many youngsters during the 1980s after the closure of Corby steelworks.
Campaigners fought for years to keep it open under increasing cost pressures, even calling on then Prime Minister David Cameron to join their fight after he visited in 2007.
The pastor of Living Faith Temple said he understands people will have mixed feelings about the sale but has vowed to ensure that the whole community is welcomed back into the building.
The land on which the Connaughty Centre was built was originally owned by the Corby Development Corporation - a Government agency set up to kickstart the building of the new tow during the 1950s and 60s.
It was leased to the trustees of a charitable organisation called the Corby Youth Centre in 1967 who built the Connaughty Centre after a period of local fundraising. They also built the McDiarmid sports hall at the rear of the building in 1971.
In 1972, Northamptonshire County Council was made the trustee of the Corby Youth Centre and took over the running and maintenance of the centre and the hall.
It shut in 2014 after the council said it could not afford the huge £700,000 repair bill needed to bring it up to scratch.
At that time, deputy council leader Heather Smith said that should the building be disposed of, it were not clear whether the authority would receive any cash, but that if they did the money would be used to benefit the youth of Corby and would not just go back into central council funds.
But because the repair bill was so high, the county council surrendered its leasehold, due to run until 2027, to Homes England for free.
The land the centre stands on has always remained in Government hands and now it has emerged that Homes England sold it lock, stock and barrel in April.
There was a legal obligation on NCC for any proceeds of their to be reinvested into youth provision in Corby, but as that lease was surrendered, there was no profit. It appears there was no such covenant on the land owner - Homes England - so none of the proceeds will be returned to the people of Corby.
Councillor Bob Scott said he felt the people of Corby had been ‘misled’ by the previous administration at Northamptonshire County Council.
He said: “It’s not been a youth centre for some time and has not been used for the purpose for which it was intended, so although I would like to have seen it continue in its original form to serve the young people of Corby, I am glad it’s being put to good use.
“However, back in 2013 I had meetings to seek assurances about the proceeds of the building and was told that any money made would go back to the youth of Corby. It seems we’ve been misled all the way along.”
The Living Faith Temple - a multi-cultural, non-denominational church - has been meeting in various locations in Corby since 2008, when it had just 12 members for its first service at the Church of the Epiphany. It has grown significantly and now needs much larger premises.
Pastor David Midzi said that he hoped that local people would take some comfort in the fact that the building would remain standing. He said: “We are about half way through the renovation process.
“It will become a church but we hope to bring the community centre back to the community.
“That’s the vision.”
Local people have questioned why no planning permission has been sought but Corby Council planning officers have confirmed that there was none needed as the legal classification is the same for a youth centre and a church.
A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “The county council has never owned the Connaughty Centre but held the property on two leases from the Homes and Communities Agency, now called Homes England.
“The property was in a rather dilapidated state and had been closed by NCC a number of years ago.
“The council’s liabilities for the property significantly outweighed any benefit of retention, and undertaking the works to bring it into repair was not a financially viable option for the authority.
“As such the council surrendered its leasehold interests to the Home and Communities Agency (now Homes England) who have since sold the property.
“While there was an obligation for any proceeds to be reinvested in supporting alternative provision if there was a leasehold disposal by the county council, there was no ‘profit’ from the transaction and therefore no additional money to redistribute.”
A Homes England spokeswoman confirmed that NCC received no money from the sale of the Connaughty Centre, adding: “Northamptonshire County Council gave up tenancy of the site as part of the sale. This meant that the lease restricting use of the site to a youth centre by the council also expired.
“The site was sold for market value. The proceeds came to Homes England and will be used in line with our government appointed goal to help get more homes built in the communities where they’re needed most.”