January 26, 2023 6.45 pm This story is over 10 months old

South Kesteven council to repay £1.3m for scrapped university project

Officers ‘failed the council’

South Kesteven District Council has agreed to pay back £1.3m funding over a Grantham university centre which never materialised.

The facility on the top floor of the town’s Savoy cinema was originally supposed to be a partnership with the University of Lincoln.

The Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership originally provided a £2 million grant, which it has asked to be returned.

The council admitted that officers had “failed” it over the project, as it agreed a compromise clawback figure to be repaid.

Opposition leaders said the responsibility for the failed scheme should lay with the administration.

The sum will be paid from the Local Priorities Reserve between February 2023 and April 2024.

Council leader Kelham Cooke told the full meeting: “The aspiration to create a university centre was absolutely right for the town and the location.

“Sadly, officers at the time failed the council. The management has since changed, and we know have the best team we’ve ever had.

“It was disappointing that the university walked away. However, Covid has changed how space is used for learning.”

The area where the University of Lincoln was planned to move into – it would have included a lecture theatre and a number of offices | Photo: Daniel Jaines

The council has relocated its headquarters to the empty space on St Catherine’s Road, which he claimed would make financial savings.

“The £1.3million we will pay back will be cheaper than refurbishing our existing building, which needed  a multi-million-pound-sum,” he said.

“The new office will save in carbon emissions and other costs, proving a modern open-plan collaborative workspace.”

But opposition groups weren’t convinced by the explanation.

Democratic Independents leader Councillor Philip Knowles said: “You can’t delegate responsibility and accountability. The responsibility rests with the administration.”

Alliance SK leader Councillor Ashley Baxter described the whole project as “pig’s ear” which left the council with an “abandoned building”.

Labour Councillor Lee Steptoe also claimed that Leicester-based De Montfort University, which collaborates with Grantham College, wasn’t approached as a potential replacement.

Councillors were told that if they rejected the £1.3m settlement offer, they would like end up repaying the full £2m.

The learning facility would have contained a lecture theatre and offices, offering apprenticeships, diplomas and short courses for south Lincolnshire.

In a statement issued last year, the University of Lincoln said it would “continue to work with local authorities such as SKDC to find opportunities to sustain this important work in the future.”

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