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Source : 04/11/2002 Northampton Chronicle and Echo

The Jesus Army has been condemned for ongoing delays which have plagued the transformation of the historic Cannon Cinema in the heart of Northampton.

More than two-and-a-half years after the controversial Nether Heyford-based religious group bought the derelict art deco venue, ambitious plans to convert it into a worship centre have yet to come to fruition.

The Chronicle and Echo revealed on Friday that the multi-million-pound redevelopment will now not become a reality until at least the end of next year.

Councillor Winston Strachan (Lab, St Crispin) was one of the councillors on Northampton Borough Council's planning committee who opposed plans for the conversion.

He said: 'The borough council has always had doubts about what sort of message would be sent out once the Jesus Army redeveloped the Cannon.'

'It is a disgrace that a building such as this is falling into such a state of disrepair. It begs the question: What sort of message are we sending out to the public?'

'We were worried about the extent of the decay of the building two years ago, and this has grown as time has passed.'

'The message we got from the Jesus Army was that they had enough money to carry out the work. But now it seems that some of our concerns are justified.'

Very little work has been done to the actual interior of the 1930s building, which has been held up as one of the nation's finest examples of an art deco cinema.

Underpinning work to stabilise the foundations and improvements to the drainage system have begun.

But Jesus Army elders have told the Chron that detailed plans for the conversion are having to be resubmitted to the architects after the initial blueprints had proved too costly.

Tony Clarke, the MP for Northampton South, said at the weekend: 'The building has become an eyesore.'

'If the Jesus Army fails to adhere to a tight timetable for improvements, then I would hope that the borough council will consider an enforcement order.'

'I remember going to the Saturday Cinema Club as a child, and it was always a magnificent building which the town could be proud of.'

'But the building has turned into something which Northampton's residents are ashamed of.'

'The concerns I had two years ago about the Jesus Army's stewardship of the venue appear to becoming a reality.'

John Campbell from the Jesus Army said: 'As a charity we are very restricted in what we are legally allowed to do. We have to go through some very tight procedures regarding costs effectiveness and accounting which has been one of the hold ups of the design stage.'

'We are eager to get this up and running as soon as practically possible.'