New Northants unitaries will pick up the final £1.3m bill for ill-fated Chester Farm project

But it's unclear as yet whether the final bill will fall solely to the new North Northants unitary council

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 1:41 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 1:44 pm
The project has gone well over budget already and is much delayed.

The £1.3 million cost of finishing the behind schedule and over budget Chester Farm project is now being pushed to the new unitaries due to ‘covid related delays’.

Northamptonshire County Council’s capital report revealed yesterday that the scheme to turn the 45-acre farm site in Irchester, which is built on a Roman heritage site, into a visitor attraction is set for another delay and the remaining construction costs will not come out of the budget of the county authority – which is now in its final months.

Instead it will go into the 2021/22 budget which will be delivered by the two new authorities which are due to be set up for the North and West of the county.

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The capital report says: “Decrease of £1.3 million in 2020-21, as a result of the unsuccessful tender process for the remainder of the works, partly due to the tender running at the point that the covid lockdown first came into place.

“The council is in the process of going out to tender again in the coming months now that the initial lockdown is over, and working practices have been clarified. The result is that works will be delayed for approximately 10 months and therefore costs have been reprofiled into 2021-22.”

According to the capital report the original capital budget set aside for Chester Farm this financial year was £2.63 million, meaning that £1.3 million should still come out of the county council’s capital budget this year towards the cost.

It is unclear whether the remaining £1.3 million will fall wholly to the North Northants unitary – as the site falls into its boundary – or whether the West authority will also have to pay for some of the bill.

The scheme has had a series of issues since it was first dreamt up by former council leader Jim Harker back in 2012. The site has been owned by the county authority since 2004 and in 2010 a large fire damaged much of the Grade II listed farmhouse.

Last summer the Shaylor Group, which was doing the construction work went into administration and so work was stopped. Last December the council’s deputy leader Cllr Lizzie Bowen admitted the £13.3 million scheme, which is a third funded by the Heritage Lottery, was a big risk and said: “We are where we are. We are in the seventh attempt at this. We will give it the best shot it has ever had but I do think we need to be realistic about income generation.

We are not intending to make massive profits on this project.”

The news that the unitaries will pick up the final bill for the project has been criticised by the leader of the Liberal Democrats at NCC Cllr Chris Stanbra.

He tweeted: “Chester Farm is a money pit. If @futureNnorth is to take over responsibility it should seek to minimise future expenditure and close the project down if necessary.”

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