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Exclusive: £500,000 grant for new village centre likely to be ‘terminated’

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A £500,000 county council grant towards a proposed new village centre at Stretham is under threat.

The council’s communities, social mobility and inclusion will be recommended to pull the plug on the grant when it meets on September 22.

Paul Fox, interim deputy director for communities, employment, and skills, says the recommendation of a steering group is to “terminate the grant agreement”.

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He says the project has received £90,000 to date.

But the steering group is recommending termination “on the grounds that project completion is unlikely, or that project completion would not achieve the original outcomes in a cost- effective way”.

He adds: “This is a very ambitious project with an indicative council contribution of £500k towards a project originally costed at £1.6m.

“There have been verbal indications that the total cost may have increased to over £3m, although amended costs have not been confirmed in writing.

“Although the project was supported by the Capital Fund in 2020, no match funding has yet been secured.”

He says the response from the project lead speaks of intentions to apply for funds and identifying potential sources of funding.

“This long and complex project also has several phases and numerous interdependencies, such as land transfer requirements,” says Mr Fox

“The council has also been made aware of community opposition to the scheme.

Mr Fox says the funding gap appears to have increased and due to inflation is likely to continue until further funding is found.

He says the “lack of certainly around funding other than the council’s” combined with other issues had led the steering group to conclude that project completion was unlikely.

He says the steering group noted that the grant recipient should be informed this would not prevent the project from reapplying for grant funding for the forthcoming Cambridgeshire Priorities Capital Fund, should it meet the criteria.

“However, this will be a competitive process and this project would not receive priority,” says Mr Fox.

In July, the committee received a report which provided an update on the 35 projects that had been awarded funding from the Community Capital Fund.

Nine projects on the list had not been completed and the committee set up the steering group to investigate and make recommendations.

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The fund, with an allocation of £5m, was launched by the county council in 2020.

It aimed to “support projects that will make positive changes in the community, bringing people together and meeting the priorities that matter most to local people”.

In July, the committee heard that of the £5m available, total initial allocation of £4,960,000 had been made.

Total funding paid to date was £3,012,409 and funding allocated by returned (projects terminated) came to £234,000.

But the list of ‘red flagged’ projects led to the steering group.

A report to the July meeting noted that “where termination is recommended, the committee should be aware of initial legal advice that indicates that project termination based on missed milestones may not be reasonable if those delays have been caused by the pandemic.

“However, the committee should also note that the grant agreements that underpin these projects state that ‘the funder may at its discretion withhold or suspend payment of the grant and/or require repayment of all or part of the grant.’”

The new village centre is on land once earmarked for a new GP surgery.

A planning application has been submitted by Stretham parish council.

Haysom Ward Miller Architects has submitted the proposals to East Cambridgeshire District Council. 

Besides a multi-purpose hall, the parish council proposed it contains a function room, community cafe and micro business units. 

Manor Farm is part of a Community Land Trust-led development.

The architects say the village hub has come forward as approval for a local GP surgery has not been taken forward by the NHS.

“Stretham Parish Council and Stretham and Wilburton Community Land Trust have agreed to co-operate with proposals for this new development,” says the architects.

One early objection says “wow, without any prior notice or consultation, planning has been submitted for a community centre”. 

Another claims the new community centre “is in the wrong location, too big, too expensive, non-sustainable and will be a burden on local taxpayers and residents”.

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