Northants County Council says it would be ‘very expensive’ to mothball Chester Farm project

Chester Farm in Irchester
Chester Farm in Irchester

A multi-million pound Roman heritage project being funded by Northamptonshire County Council is being done so ‘through gritted teeth’.

The authority has put in a further £2.2m to the Chester Farm project this year so that the scheme in Irchester can be finished.

These extra millions were on top of £4.9m the council has already put into the project to join a £4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

At yesterday’s cabinet meeting (Jul 10) Cllr Michael Clarke, who is responsible for finance, said the council would rather not be adding money into Chester Farm at a time when it was making huge service cuts elsewhere.

3,000 staff have recently been offered voluntary redundancy.

He said: “It is through gritted teeth that we are proceeding with Chester Farm.

“We are committed and are about 85 per cent of the way through the project.

“We have spent a long time looking at how we can disengage from the project, but it would be very expensive indeed to mothball it.”

The councillor said the authority would be liable to pay back the £4m HLF grant if the project was scrapped and so would end up costing more than the £2.2m being added this year.

The 17th century farmhouse was bought by NCC in 2004  and is considered 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.

The project involves a heritage centre which will tell the history of the site, plus a conference centre, some classrooms for school groups and a cafe in the main house.

The project was championed by former council leader Jim Harker, who ran the political side of the council from 2005 and stood down in May 2016.

Mr Harker is chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund East Midlands branch and was appointed in April 2014, eight months after the £4m grant for Chester Farm was approved.