Councillors clash over North Northants levelling-up 'vanity' projects

Members of the executive said that the levelling up fund is not about levelling-up left-behind areas

Friday, 17th June 2022, 9:00 am
Updated Friday, 17th June 2022, 10:40 am
Yesterday's Corby Cube meeting was tense
Yesterday's Corby Cube meeting was tense

A fiery council meeting saw plans for seven ‘levelling up’ schemes across Corby and Wellingborough waved through after senior members were accused of funding ‘vanity’ projects.

North Northants members clashed in the council chamber over the government funding that would see schemes like Chester House, Stanton Cross and the Greenway benefit.

Some believe that there are other projects that are more in need of the Levelling Up Fund cash.

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Councillors from the Corby area who spoke during public participation session were accused of not understanding the people of Corby.

Members of the council’s executive had been due to meet yesterday (Thursday, June 16) to discuss seven schemes that are being put forward to the next stage to eventually make up the authority’s bid for its share millions in cash from the government’s Department for Levelling Up.

There has been public criticism over the seven schemes which were selected out of 59 proposed ideas. Only one bid is North Northants’ three ‘left behind’ areas of Kingswood and Hazel Leys in Corby, Avondale Grange in Kettering and Queensway in Wellingborough.

Some members of the public believe well-funded places like Chester Farm, Stanton Cross, Adrenaline Alley and the Corby Station cycle lane should not get millions while other venues like the tumbledown Kettering Swimiming Pool miss out.

But at yesterday’s meeting, senior councillors said that they have misunderstood the scheme, and it is not about levelling-up left behind areas.

Cllr Zoe McGhee, who chairs the council’s levelling up committee, spoke to ask when Kingswood was going to get some of the funding, and said that she would write to the Department of Levelling Up herself to get some answers.

Chair Jason Smithers accused her of not being supportive of Adrenaline Alley’s bid.

Then Cllr Jean Addison said: “I don’t understand what levelling-up means to people (here). It should be spent on projects where it’s needed the most. It shouldn’t be spent on vanity projects like Chester House.”

Councillor Lora Lawman said there had been a ‘series of missed chances’ to make a safe crossing over the A509 over the years leaving Wilby completely cut-off. She asked that some of the money should be spent on creating safe pedestrian access.

Cllr David Brackenbury said: “This is not a fund for left behind areas.

"It’s a fund to provide investment in transport, town centres and cultural projects. We’re up against a bidding process. North Northamptonshire has not yet been allocated a single penny in this levelling up fund. We have to put bids in which.. will be scrutinised to make sure they satisfy government criteria.”

Leader Cllr Jason Smithers, who represents Oundle, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for North Northamptonshire Council. We’re putting our best foot forward with our bid.

"Councillor Addison refers to Adrenaline Alley as a vanity project. (editor’s note: Cllr Addison referred to Chester House as a vanity project, not Adrenaline Alley)

"To suggest this is not the right development (shows you) don’t understand the people of Corby.”

The bids will now go forward to a panel of four senior councillors and officers who will decide in private which to take forward.