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Delapre Abbey – Dark Clouds of Mistrust Grows
Following the excellent BBC article on the resignation of the entire Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust (DAPT) which came out after yesterday’s blog things have become even more interesting.
My two previous blogs on this issue have generated a high level of interest,
“Friends of Delapre Abbey – No Longer needed by Conservatives” (29th November 2013), and “Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust Resignation – Clouds of Suspicion” (4th February 2014)
What amazed me was the level of interest the latest blog has raised with over 185 ‘hits’ during the day which demonstrates just how important Delapre Abbey is to the people not only of Northampton but further afield.
The comments left have almost universally expressed two aspects of this whole sorry and incompetently managed situation.
Firstly how can the Northampton Conservatives claims about the Delapre Abbey restoration be believed and what an earth were Cllr Mackintosh and Cllr Hadland doing to cause the entire DAPT board to resign.
I believe that the BBC commentary, which I hope they won’t mind me including in this blog, raises a number of crucial and very important questions and issues about the situation.
BBC News 4 February 2014 last updated at 08:15.
A board of trustees set up to oversee an abbey’s restoration have resigned over a “breach” of an agreement with Northampton Borough Council.
Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust (DAPT) resigned after the council proposed the inclusion of a Friends of Delapre Abbey member on a “joint project board”.
The council wanted to add the member to recognise the body’s help in winning a £3.6m Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
Former chairman Bill Wright said the move made it “impossible to continue”.
He said trustees had “been given no alternative but to resign”, which they did with “very great regret”.
A DAPT spokesman said the move had “compromised their positions, making them unable to continue properly to fulfil their duties”.
Mr Wright said the DAPT had been “operating successfully under a legal agreement [with the council] since June, which resulted in the Heritage Lottery Fund granting us £3.6m to restore the abbey”.
Council leader David Mackintosh said the authority were “disappointed that the Delapre Abbey Preservation trustees have chosen to resign”.
“The abbey is part of our town’s heritage and a much loved asset enjoyed by the whole community [and] we wanted to see everyone with an interest working together as we look to bring the building back into use.”
He said that the council had “asked that the Friends of Delapre Abbey have representation on the joint project board that is being set up to bring everyone together to oversee the restoration”.
“Unfortunately, this simple request appears to have been unacceptable to DAPT.”
The restoration of the abbey is one of the council’s key heritage projects.
END OF BBC REPORT.
It is necessary to look carefully at what lies behind this whole issue.The statement about a ‘ simple request’ from Cllr Mackintosh appears to be untrue.
It is my understanding that in fact DAPT weren’t asked to approve a ‘simple request’ but informed by Cllr Mackintosh and Cllr Hadland that they had unilaterally and without consultation decided to include a member of the Friends of Delapre Abbey (FODA) on the Joint Project Board.
So what’s the problem with that if it is only a simple request?
Perhaps it is necessary to understand what the terms of reference and remit of DAPT were and how it came about.
In 2011 there was an all-party agreement that the restoration of Delapre Abbey would be the number one priority and that for it to be a success it was important that an Independent Trust be set up to oversee the restoration.
There was a number very simple and logical reasons for taking the decision to set up an Independent Trust amongst which were,
The nature of the restoration of an important historical building which the Northampton Borough Council didn’t have either the capacity, knowledge or experience not to speak of funding to deliver.
The need to ensure that all of the legal requirements associated with the restoration of an import at listed building are complied with.
To develop a bid and provide confidence to the Heritage Lottery Fund that their investment would be ‘safe’ and used appropriately, and
To prevent political interference in and using the restoration for personal and political advantage especially in the Far Cotton and Delapre area.
Put simply all parties agreed to take politics out of the issue through the setting up of an autonomous Independent Trust.
People were invited to apply to be members of the Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust and attend an interview where they were asked about their knowledge and experience which could be summed up by “What can you bring that will make this a success”.
I should perhaps at this stage confess that I was on the interview panel and also that every applicant was told that the restoration would be the responsibility of DAPT free from political interference and asked how they would interact with FODA and the community.
The result as we know was the setting up of the Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust who became a Registered Company with Companies House, the Charity Commission and has a partnership agreement with Northampton Borough Council.
The major issue is who the Accountable Body is now.
It my understanding that as part of the successful HLF bid it was DAPT and who were the accountable body and therefore the specified organisation to hold and be accountable for the Heritage Lottery Fund funding?
Looking at the DAPT Company records they have already received over £50k which I presume the HLF will want accounted for.
I assume that Companies House and the Charities Trust have been informed that all of trustees have resigned and that the DAPT has effectively gone into voluntary liquidation?
I’m also assuming that the Trustees have written to the HLF informing them that the ‘Accountable Body’ no longer exists and the reasons why which means there is no organisation to hold and be accountable for the £3.6m of funds awarded.
It would be inconceivable, taking into account that the HLF are awarding funds from the public purse that they would not revoke or at least freeze the release of funds under the current circumstances.
Which of course raises another issue that of who picks up the cost of work that has already been contracted to be carried out if funding is frozen or withdrawn?
Without having access to a copy of the partnership agreement between DAPT and the NBC it is difficult to ascertain the validity, and especially the legal situation that Mr Wright refers to when he said that they had a ‘legal agreement’ which Cllr Mackintosh has breached.
Another major issue of course is that the trustees of DAPT are all very highly respected people from the business, legal and heritage community with a wealth of experience and understanding of what is required not only to deliver a restoration project of the size of Delapre Abbey but also to make it economically self-sustaining when completed.
The question is where will replacements of the calibre of the outgoing DAPT trustees be found?
And even more of a concern is why anyone would volunteer to be a trustee if they are going to see agreements breached by local politicians who want to use the Abbey restoration for their own self-promotion.
In very simple terms the outgoing DAPT trustees will undoubtedly be contacted by people of the calibre required who may consider applying to be a trustee and when they explain how they have been treated by Cllr Mackintosh and Cllr Hadland!!!!!,I believe that what has really brought about this situation is due to three factors,
The first is that Cllr Mackintosh and Cllr Hadland regard FODA and the people of Far Cotton and Delapre as ‘trouble makers’ following the Northampton Conservatives previous problems with the community over the Delapre bundling et al.
The second is that having been forced to accept an opposition motion to provide FODA with temporary tea rooms during the restoration period and include them in the project he arbitrarily decided to include them on the Joint Project Board without consulting the DAPT trustees who are the accountable body.
The third is that Cllr Mackintosh sees the Delapre Abbey restoration as an issue for him to use in the Far Cotton and Delapre area though Council Tax Paid leaflets promoting his ambitions to be their MP.
I for one wouldn’t be at all surprised is a programme of Delapre Abbey restoration update leaflets wasn’t already being planned with Cllr Mackintosh taking the lead role and certainly all of the photo positions on them.
I predict that the Northampton Conservative ‘Spin’ machine will be cranked up to full speed in the coming week and the following excuses will be forthcoming to excuse their incompetence that has led to the current position.
Cllr Mackintosh will talk about having to “look at and manage the bigger picture”!
Well in looking and managing the bigger picture he has caused the entire DAPT Board of Trustees to resign leaving us with no accountable body.
Cllr Mackintosh will find time to produce and be photographed in a glossy leaflet claiming that it was he alone who convinced the HLF to provide the funding and that he is now taking direct control of the project.
It didn’t go unnoticed that in the recent statement from NBC about the start of the restoration there was no mention of the role that DAPT played in the successful HLF bid.
Cllr Mackintosh will quite probably try to claim that the partnership agreement between DAPT and the NBC hasn’t yet come into force and therefore any agreement could be changed without consultation.
I’ll leave the reader to think what they want about such an excuse,
but it reveals once again that the Northampton Conservatives and especially Cllr Mackintosh really believe that they can do whatever they want, when they want and irrespective of other people and organisations.
It is the principle that dictatorial and arrogant people have followed throughout history.
I should say that I have no problem whatsoever in FODA being on the Joint Project Board as either a member or even as an observer but surely if there was a legal agreement in place with DAPT as the ‘accountable body’ then it was up to them to invite FODA not to have it imposed on them as a fait- accompli.
I’m also sure that had this been managed better, which it clearly hasn’t been, then an accommodation would have been arrived at.
It seems the problem has been the dictatorial, divisive attitude of the Leader of the Council.
Cllr Mackintosh will I expect say that he only “asked”, “suggested”, “requested” that FODA be given a place on the Joint Project Board.
I won’t believe him if he does.
Because if so why would the entire Board of Trustees resign?
The problem now is what will the HLF do and will this be referred to the Local Government Ombudsman?
The seriousness of the situation following the resignation of the DAPT Board of Trustees cannot be overstated which is why Cllr’s Mackintosh and Hadland need to provide answers.
Whatever their excuse one thing is certain,
Cllr Mackintosh, Cllr Hadland and the Northampton Conservatives have now lost the trust and confidence of those committed to the restoration of Delapre Abbey and more importantly their honesty integrity has been brought very seriously into question
I’m sure this isn’t the last we will hear on this subject.
In the meantime?????