Plans by a cash-strapped council to spend an extra £2.2 million on a Roman heritage project in Irchester have been challenged, with local politicians saying the funds would be better spent on the county’s crumbling roads.
Northamptonshire County Council has decided to put in the £2.2 million additional funding needed to finish the behind-schedule Chester Farm project, which will see a heritage centre created at the site off the A45.
Five years ago the council pledged £4.9 million to the project after being awarded just under £4 million of Heritage Lottery funding.
It had hoped to secure the additional £2.2 million needed to complete the project from other agencies, but these plans have not been realised and now the financially troubled council is picking up the shortfall.
The 17th century farmhouse is thought to be of national importance as it was built on the site of a Roman walled town which has human activity dating back 10,000 years.
Speaking at yesterday’s cabinet meeting held at One Angel Square (May 8) Cllr Winston Strachan, who represents the Castle ward in Northampton, said the money would be better diverted to fill the holes in the county’s crumbling roads.
He said: “Considering the financial mess the council finds itself in, why are we continuing to fund the Chester Farm project when we could use some of that money to repair the potholes?”
But cabinet member for transport, highways and environment, Ian Morris said if NCC decided to pull out of the project it would lose the Lottery funding.
He said: “Chester Farm is a very interesting project that is of huge archaeological importance to the county.
“A lot of money has been provided by the Heritage Lottery and if we stop the project now the money would have to be repaid.
“So we have to continue and what we do with Chester Farm when it is is finished can be decided then.
“There are some commercial opportunities.”
The 45-acre farm site was bought by NCC in 2004 and six years later the 17th century farmhouse was partially destroyed by fire.
The heritage project was first started five years ago in 2013 and the centre was due to open in March this year.
It is hoped it will become a major visitor attraction for the county and when complete will feature a cafe; community, conference and training venue; offices and classrooms for school visits.
Two years ago the county council launched a website to tell people more about the history of the site.