Kettering opposition councillors demand answers to Cornerstone ‘white elephant’
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NNC’s place and environment scrutiny committee will receive a report on the Cornerstone project on August 29 that will provide a ‘full update on progress’ and ‘next steps’.
Dogged by delays, rain has continued to leak through the crumbling broken tiles on the Collyweston slate roof into the brand new extension – bins and buckets collecting the flood.
In March this paper was told a bespoke ‘tent’ covering all of the leaking library roof would have to installed prior to any repairs with a price tag of more than an estimated £1m.
Cllr Anne Lee (NNC and Kettering Town councillor) said: “An officer told the Friends of the Art Gallery’s annual general meeting that the Art Gallery would reopen within months, as soon as a bespoke gazebo had been fitted over the roof of the building to make it waterproof. However, there has been no news since then.”
Cornerstone containing the Grade II-listed Alfred East Art Gallery, new meeting rooms, a Changing Spaces accessible toilet, and cafe has remained closed to the public. The Grade II-listed Manor House Museum has also been shut to visitors since the pandemic in March 2020 due to major safety concerns with the upstairs floors.
Kettering Town councillor Clark Mitchell said: “The Cornerstone project should have been a fantastic investment in our town and driven much needed footfall for our High Street.
"Instead we have a name that has been unanimously decried by the residents of the town and an unusable building. It’s time the residents of Kettering are given the answers to why we are being let down.”
Cllr Mitchell has made a Freedom of Information request to find out if there are conditions on the grant funding, timescales for the gallery’s completion and opening.
He said: “I want to know how long Cornerstone would need to remain open once completed to fulfil the grant conditions, whether if NNC were to fail to achieve such conditions, if funding would need to be returned, and whether there are any grant conditions that would require NNC to repay any or all of the funding received.
"My FOI request is the first step in gettering the answers we all deserve. It is time the public is told the truth about where this project is going. Will it ever open, or has the public been saddled with something that instead of adding to the heritage of the town is a white elephant which has swallowed the Alfred East Art Gallery and the Manor House Museum and left us with a hollow void? It’s yet another example of Kettering being let down by North Northamptonshire Council.”
Members of the place and environment scrutiny committee – chairman Cllr Gill Mercer (Cons), vice-chairman Cllr Kevin Watt (Cons), Cllr Valerie Anslow (Lab), Cllr Melanie Coleman (Cons), Cllr Emily Fedorowycz (Green), Cllr Philip Irwin (Cons), Cllr Mark Pengelly (Lab), Cllr Geoff Shacklock (Cons) and Cllr Lee Wilkes (Cons) – are due to meet on Tuesday, August 29.
Cllr Helen Howell, deputy leader of NNC and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism, said: "A meeting of the place and environment scrutiny committee will receive a report on the Cornerstone project on Tuesday, August 29 2023. The report and accompanying presentation will provide a full update on progress and next steps.
“As previously reported, the issues with the deteriorating library roof have impacted the new build section of the project due to rainwater travelling through the roof space from one building to the other.
"The project to repair the roof has always been separate to the Cornerstone project, which has been completed in the majority using external funding. Due to the impact the library roof has had on the new build, a decision was taken earlier in 2023 to ensure the building is watertight before we open Cornerstone.
“Opening of Cornerstone, either fully or in part, is dependent on decisions that will need to be made in relation to the library roof, which will be run as a separate project. A report is currently being developed for the executive and full council to consider the various options for the library roof, which will include potential costs.
“NNC has a positive track record of bringing heritage buildings back in to use and are determined to make Cornerstone a success. We fully recognise the importance of this asset to not just Kettering, but the whole of North Northamptonshire and are grateful to the ongoing support stakeholders, supporters, and volunteers have shown during the extended period of closure of the Gallery and Museum.”