EXCLUSIVE: Businessmen reveal £10 million plans for new hotel to ‘save’ Bridge Street in Northampton

The former Angel Hotel building - encompassing Fat Cats and Balloon Bar - has been a blight on Bridge Street since a huge fire in 2012.  The fire was accidentally started by a roofers torch.
The former Angel Hotel building - encompassing Fat Cats and Balloon Bar - has been a blight on Bridge Street since a huge fire in 2012. The fire was accidentally started by a roofers torch.

Major proposals to knock down the fire-ravaged former Fat Cat bar on Bridge Street and replace it with a £10 million hotel are set to be submitted to the council.

The Old Northampton Group (ONG) has given the Chronicle & Echo an exclusive glimpse of its most ambitious project yet - a bid to turn around one of the town centre’s most prominent eyesores.

Fat Cats, Bridge Street, Northampton NNL-170816-143841009

Fat Cats, Bridge Street, Northampton NNL-170816-143841009

Five years after a blaze destroyed the Fat Cat Cafe bar, the company, which owns four other venues across town, now wants to restore the site as the Angel Hotel.

Plans drawn up by the same architects that renovated the town’s Guildhall Stimpson Walton Board, show the three-storey hotel would have 84 beds with the current courtyard area converted into glass-fronted shops.

The company spokesman said it was ONG’s most ambitious project yet.

“We won’t see much change out of £10 million, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Angel Hotel plans.

Angel Hotel plans.

But added that the new hotel would require a complete demolition of the former Fat cat site.

“We are going to knock the whole thing down and start again,” he said.

“The fire was five years ago. The foundations there are gone, the building can’t be saved.”

To date, the group has invested £9 million across its four venues in Northampton: The Dept for Meat and Social Affairs, the Old House, Sazerac and the Lighthouse.

Firefighters from around the county attend the blaze at The Fat Cat club in Bridge Street ENGNNL00120120121183013

Firefighters from around the county attend the blaze at The Fat Cat club in Bridge Street ENGNNL00120120121183013

It has also recently purchased a former car park next to the Lighthouse in Wellingborough Road, which it plans to turn into a bar and restaurant.

The details of that scheme are being kept under wraps, but the spokesman confirmed the new venue would be “completely different” to its current venues.

The Fat Cat scheme, the spokesman said, could reinvigorate Bridge Street, which has been covered in scaffolding since 2012.

“Bridge Street is an eyesore in the town centre,”said the spokesman.

“We get a lot of negative feedback about it.

“This could be seen as a key project the town,

“The hotel is a step towards to opening Bridge Street up to a daytime economy as well as a nighttime economy.”

The scheme has been two-and-a-half years in the making due to complications around the ownership of the Fat Cat site and the level of research that has gone into the design of the hotel.

Old Northampton Group had considered a hotel close to Delapre Abbey, but a planning agreement wit they Marriott Hotel chain prevents any competition in the area.

Proposals are to restore the Angel Hotel as close as possible to the way it looked in the 18th and 19th centuries with an exposed brick front.

The Old Northampton Group spokesman said the plan is to create a four star venue, which he says is currently lacking in the town centre.

ONG also aims to use local contractors for all of the building work.

The retail units in the courtyard, which could include cafe’s and shops, will effectively back onto the county council’s multi-million pound new offices in Angel Street.

“This has always been about adding value to Northampton,” said the ONG spokesman.

“If this was just about making money, we would have opened somewhere in London or Milton Keynes.

“This is about regenerating an area and getting local people behind this.

“This is our home town.

“It means a lot to us.”

The New Years Day fire at the Fat Cat Cafe Bar came as a huge blow to traders back in 2012.

Not only was a Grade II listed building gutted, but the street was left blighted by scaffolding and an unsightly wooden underpass.

Records show a hotel may have existed on site of the former Fat Cat as early as 1585 . It was rebuilt in 1746 with various additions being made over the years.

But a document compiled by architects Stimpson Walton Bond shows that the fire and water damage from the 2012 blaze was so severe “significant elements” have been recommended for demolition.

The Fat Cat chain had hoped to reopen the site within a year of the devastating fire, which was believed to have been caused by accident during roofing works.

Managing director Matt Saunders said at the time he was expecting to open again “within eight to nine months” as the company was only halfway through a 20-year lease.

But in 2013 any hopes of a swift refurbishment were dashed when Fat Cat went into administration.

At the time Mohammed Ahmin, director of The Royal Bengal restaurant that had been on the street for 40 years, said he was getting “quite concerned” about the lack of a tenant to push the work forward.

Balloon Bar the neighbouring premises, opened again in 2013 however.

Traders have put up with the scaffolding for the past four years and many have cited the ugly metal poles and coverings as a reason for a dip in trade.

Mr Ahmin eventually elected to shut the Royal Bengal in April after stating the “reputation” of Bridge Street had hampered trade.

Hope resurfaced in 2016, when the Old Northampton Group bought the site off its landlords in Ireland.

A spokesman for the company told the Chron that it was working with Heritage England on an exciting new scheme for the former Fat Cat.

The site is believed to have played host to the oldest coaching house in the country.

“We’ve put two or three different proposals forward,” he told the Chron in March 2016.

“At this stage it’s highly unlikely it will be a bar.

“I can say the project we have in mind will be pretty spectacular.”

Plans for the new Angel Hotel are set to be submitted in September, with construction work due to commence in “early 2018”.