Kettering Leisure Village campaigners left with near ‘impossible’ timeframe after amendment removes 'step in' call – it’s a ‘total disaster’

Members of the public packed the gallery holding ‘Save KLV’ placards
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Save KLV! A unanimous cry from campaigners and councillors alike, but changes to a motion proposed to save Kettering Leisure Village ended in disagreement on how to achieve it.

North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) elected members finally met to debate KLV’s perilous position, eight weeks after the shock closure announcement was made on April 27.

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A motion proposed by Cllr Jim Hakewill (Ind) and Cllr Keli Watts (Lab) calling for NNC to ‘step in to keep the KLV open’ was tempered by an amendment proposed by Cllr Helen Howell (Con), NNC’s deputy leader and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism, and seconded by Cllr Anup Pandey (Con).

Cllr Jim Hakewill, head in his hand, after a pause in proceedings of the North Northants Council meeting to discuss the future of  Kettering Leisure Village as leaders meet with Adele Wylie (executive director of customer and governance)Cllr Jim Hakewill, head in his hand, after a pause in proceedings of the North Northants Council meeting to discuss the future of  Kettering Leisure Village as leaders meet with Adele Wylie (executive director of customer and governance)
Cllr Jim Hakewill, head in his hand, after a pause in proceedings of the North Northants Council meeting to discuss the future of Kettering Leisure Village as leaders meet with Adele Wylie (executive director of customer and governance)

It replaced the sentences ‘we call upon this council to take similar action to its predecessor authority (Kettering Borough Council) and to step in to keep the KLV open, whilst a sustainable, long-term, future is secured with the help of local people and organisations, for their benefit and the wider economy of North Northamptonshire. A viable business case needs to be urgently created and a budget agreed, prior to the advised closure date of July 3, 2023’.

The amendment proposed said: “A business and legal case which considers the viability of stepping in needs to be urgently created and scrutinised through the formal scrutiny process before being considered by the executive. Following which (if required) a budget should be agreed by July 3, 2023."

After nearly two hours of impassioned debate, watched by protesters with ‘Save KLV’ placards in a sometimes boisterous gallery, councillors voted, largely along party lines.

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The amended motion will see an urgently created business and legal plan to consider the ‘viability of stepping in’ before a formal scrutiny process prior to being considered by the council’s ruling executive.

Protesters gathered outside the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure VillageProtesters gathered outside the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure Village
Protesters gathered outside the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure Village

Adele Wylie, NNC’s executive director for customer and governance, told the meeting it would be ‘difficult if not impossible to keep to this timescale’ before the July 3 closure deadline.

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After the vote Cllr Hakewill, expressing his disappointment, said: “Tonight’s meeting was a total disaster for the people of Kettering. I think the meeting exposed the inadequacy of the political leadership to grasp this problem and run with it. Many people in the gallery will have been devastated to see the leader and portfolio holder remove the key paragraph which was intended to keep the KLV open. It seems the leaders are going to stand by and see the KLV close – that’s the worst possible result.”

He added that the only reason the timescale is so short is because of ‘dithering for weeks’.

Protesters in the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure VillageProtesters in the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure Village
Protesters in the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure Village
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There are seven working days for the council to prepare the business and legal case that would go before the scrutiny committee, after which NNC’s executive would make a decision. By law councils must give a minimum five days notice of a meeting.

NNC leader Cllr Jason Smithers and Cllr Howell told the meeting they had been working ‘tirelessly’ and were ‘committed’ to saving Kettering Leisure Village.

Cllr Howell said: “It’s an extremely difficult situation that we have all been put in. We were as shocked as everybody to receive notice from the contractors. We had no prior warning to this situation, any of our group. Obviously the first thing we had to do was communicate with those that are involved. Negotiations are still ongoing. We are still trying to come to a resolution between the two contractors. They (negotiations) are highly confidential. The legal implications of us passing out information to all and sundry would put this council in a serious legal position.”

Cllr Jason Smithers addresses the meeting at the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure VillageCllr Jason Smithers addresses the meeting at the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure Village
Cllr Jason Smithers addresses the meeting at the Corby Cube where North Northants Council councillors met to discuss Kettering Leisure Village

She added: “Everybody wants to save KLV and we are doing our utmost try to come to a resolution. But if we consider stepping in, we have to make sure that we look at all the legal and financial aspects.”

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Of the 51 councillors present, 11 voted against the amendment – with 37 were recorded in favour.

Cllr Keli Watts said: “I’m devastated by the results of tonight’s meeting. There were hours of debate and in the end we were told the timescale mentioned could not be met and so the KLV will close for an unspecified period of time. Many of us voted against the motion because it cannot be implemented. It’s a very sad day for the KLV supporters, users, and employees."

Doors could remain open beyond July 3 if KLV services are brought ‘in-house’ or a deal is made between the existing companies already involved – Compass who run the conference centre and Phoenix who lease the building.

Cllr Smithers said: “Negotiations are very active between commercial parties, and we are continuing to support in our brokerage role.”

Cllr Lloyd Bunday excused himself from the meeting saying he had a conflict of pecuniary interestsCllr Lloyd Bunday excused himself from the meeting saying he had a conflict of pecuniary interests
Cllr Lloyd Bunday excused himself from the meeting saying he had a conflict of pecuniary interests
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Jack Macdonald-Lucas from the Save KLV Support Group said: “The amendment is what I expected. There’s not as much of an appetite outside as was being said in the room. I think we still have a chance. I still have to be hopeful but I’m just really concerned for people’s jobs and livelihoods. If that building closes, to reopen it is going to cost a whole lot more. It’s cheaper to keep it open than close it and then reopen it. We have had serious investors come and talk to us.”

Sending a message to the executive he said: “Make the right decision – make the decision for the people that are using the space, working in the space. It’s got a future if it’s got the right management in place.”