DOUBLE DOUBLE HERITAGE TROUBLE FOR NBC MACKINTOSH

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In the week which has seen Halloween and the annual November the fifth warning to our politicians to behave themselves, the two heritage issues which have haunted the regime of Northampton Conservative Council Leader David Mackintosh for over two years look set to return.  First the warnings from the heritage community that the loss of Arts Council Accreditation and expulsion from the Museums Association caused by the controversial sale of the Ancient Egyptian statue of the scribe Sekhemka, could end up costing the Council more in lost funding than it made from the sale look as if they might be beginning to come true with the failure of a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Secondly the controversial issue of a proposed development of sports facilities and associated infrastructure on a green field site on the Registered Battlefield of the 1460, Wars of the Roses, Battle of Northampton is back on the agenda after a senior member of the Council’s ruling Conservative Group refused to rule out such a development at a public meeting with local residents.

Earlier this week thePipeLine reported that Northampton Borough Council had missed out on a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which the Council says was undertaken with the London College of Fashion, for £240,000 from the Heritage Lottery “Collecting Cultures” programme.   In a statement issued to BBC Radio Northampton on 3 November the Council claimed that they had been told by the HLF that the bid was ineligible and the fund was oversubscribed,.   However, there was intense speculation that the failure of the bid was actually due to the Museum losing its Arts Council Accreditation and the Council’s expulsion from the Museums Association, over the sale from the Museum collection of the Ancient Egyptian statue of Sekhemka by the Council and the Marquis of Northampton.

A spokesperson for the Heritage Lottery Fund has now confirmed that this was indeed the case, telling thePipeLine

“The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) rejected Northampton Council’s Collecting Cultures application because it was ineligible for that particular programme. Please note that final bit of wording – the Collecting Cultures programme requires eligibility as part of its criteria. …As far as we understand, the Council were well aware that they would be ineligible for a CC grant if they lost their Arts Council Accreditation and MA membership. ”

In other words the Council bid was ineligible because of the loss of ACE Accreditation and Museums Association Membership.  Crucial information omitted from the Councils statement to the BBC.  Speaking to the Northampton Chronicle and Echo the HLF also denied that the refusal was anything to do with the fund being oversubscribed as a Council spokesman had alleged according to the paper.

It follows that if the Council were fully aware that the loss of Arts Council Accreditation and their expulsion [or as the Council prefers to say resignation] from the Museums Association would make them ineligible for the Collecting Cultures funding pot, then the cost of wasted staff time at the two institutions pursuing the grant can also be added to the £240k of lost funding.

Still open is the question of who approved the issuing of a misleading statement to the BBC and the Northampton Chronicle and Echo?  thePipeLine asked the Northampton Borough Council Media Office whether the statement was signed off either by Council Chief Executive David Kennedy, or Council Leader David Mackintosh.  Thus far the Council has declined to reply.  The London College of Fashion has also so far declined to comment on the fate of the bid and whether Northampton’s loss of accreditation half way through the bid process had left the London institution out of pocket.

Meanwhile the Heritage Lottery Fund says it will review all future bids from the Council on their merits, while at the same time making it clear that the Council is ineligible for any fund requiring Arts Council Accreditation and/or Museums Association membership.

As if the growing evidence of the extent of the Councils problems over the Sale of Sekhemka is not enough, the issue of the Council’s alleged continuing support for what many regard as inappropriate development on the Registered Battlefield of Northampton also looks set to re-enter the political arena.  In spite of the Council’s widely applauded move initiative in adopting a Conservation Plan for the Battlefield in July there has been speculation that the Council still hopes to facilitate development on part of the Registered Battlefield at Eagle Drive, currently the site of a Grade 2 listed farm house associated with a successful and much enjoyed stables and riding school.  The speculation has been fueled by repeated references to positive meetings with the Council in the Social Media by the Richard Butcher Memorial Trust which is proposing to build a community football pitch and associated infrastructure on the site, the Trust says having been promised the use of the land by the Council.  Certainly such a scheme was backed by the Council in 2012 until it was forced to back down thanks to the efforts of local people acting with the support of the Battlefields Trust and English Heritage, which had placed the battlefield on the “At Risk” register.

Local campaigners and many in the heritage sector had hoped that the adoption of the Conservation Plan would see an end to any attempt to develop any part of the battlefield site.  Particularly as the new interest in the Wars of the Roses post the relocating of the Battlefield at Bosworth and the discovery of the remains of Richard the Third in Leicester offer substantial opportunities to the local heritage based tourist industry.  However, speaking to a meeting of the Far Cotton Residents Association on the evening of 4 November, the Council Portfolio holder for the Environment, Cllr Mike Hallam, refused to rule out development at Eagle Drive, instead reading a preprepared statement issued by Councilor Mackintosh which many people feel leaves the option to develop on the battlefield open..

In a statement to the Media issued after the meeting Councilor Brendan Glynane of the Council’s Liberal Democrat group said

“It is nothing short of cowardice from this Conservative administration to hide important information from residents. Either they should set all of our minds at rest, and confirm they will not allow development on this important historical site, or they should tell us what they really plan – so we can fight them tooth and nail. Sneaking development behind residents back is just dishonest.”

Cllr. Glynane added “It was made extremely clear to the portfolio holder once again last night that the residents of Far Cotton do not want and will not accept development on this site. I hope this administration’s record of complete disregard for our town’s heritage will not continue.”

Responding in August after another senior Council member, Cllr Brandon Eldred had told the same group of Far Cotton residents that the Butcher Trust wished to go ahead with the Eagle Drive site and that the Council would be working with them to apply for funding for an archaeological study, Cllr Mackintosh told thePipeLine

“At the Cabinet meeting in July, the Borough Council agreed to seek funding for an archaeological survey which we hope community groups including the Richard Butcher Trust will support.” 

Of course, post Sekhemka, and in the light of the refusal of the Heritage Lottery fund to entertain the bid from Northampton Museums even with a bid partner, observers suggest  it is difficult to see where the level of funding for a comprehensive, Bosworth style battlefield survey might come from, and even then there is no guarantee that such a survey would facilitate any development.  Indeed, should evidence for the Battle of Northampton in the form of cannon balls or other finds of the type located at Bosworth, Towton and Flodden be located at Eagle Drive, or anywhere else on the registered battlefield, the effect could be quite the opposite.