‘Go back and talk to the community’ pub company told over plans to turn Northampton venue into shop

Councillor James Hill - outside the Barn Owl in Rectory Farm. Hawthorn Leisure wants to turn the pub into a shop...but loads of residents don't want it to happen NNL-160113-170418009
Councillor James Hill - outside the Barn Owl in Rectory Farm. Hawthorn Leisure wants to turn the pub into a shop...but loads of residents don't want it to happen NNL-160113-170418009

Campaigners against a plan to turn a Northampton pub into a convenience store scored a minor victory after the planning board decided to delay its decision for another two months.

Residents have been battling to save the Barn Owl on Olden Road in Rectory Farm, since its owners Hawthorn Leisure Limited applied to turn the two-storey building into a Co-op food store at the end of last year.

But in an unusual step last night, Northampton Borough Council’s planning board agreed the pub company had held no consultation with the community before submitting a plan in December - so it said Hawthorn Leisure should be given two months to do just that.

Committee member Councillor Jamie Lane (Con, Boothville) said: “If you had worked with the residents’ association there would have been a better deal on the table tonight.”

The committee agreed that, in planning law terms, there was no reason to refuse Hawthorn Leisure’s bid. They were even told the pub company would be well within their rights to come back to the next planning committee with exactly the same plan.

But their decision was swayed by impassioned pleas from Rectory Farm’s Conservative councillor James Hill and members of the pub during the meeting.

Councillor Hill said: “I believe that the 552 letters of objection and the 154 name petition show that there is a universal consensus that this application is not wanted.

“The Barn Owl has been a part of our community for over 30 years.

“Its closure will cause irreparable damage to Rectory Farm.”

Chairman of the Rectory Farm Residents’ Association Keith Holland-Delamere said, had Hawthorn leisure consulted before shutting the venue in February, residents would have been willing to discuss keeping half of the building as a pub and the other half as a retail unit - but not a shop.

He said: “We do not believe that our community can sustain another store.

“Since the pub has closed the regulars have had to travel further away to meet up, to socialise.”

In fact four out of the six pubs in the Rectory Farm and Ecton Brook area have closed in the last five years.

Hawthorn Leisure did carry out market research in February - after the pub had closed.

Planning agent for the company, Nick Bowden said 55 per cent of people it surveyed in Rectory Farm were either in favour of, or indifferent to a plan for a Co-op food store.

He said the pub had to close because it became financially “unviable,” though Councillor Phil Larratt (Con, East Hunsbury) said Hawthorn Leisure had done “very little to make it work” since buying the venue from Greene King in 2014.

Mr Bowden, who said he could only talk to his clients about entering into a dialogue with the residents’ association, added that the Co-op store would create 20 jobs.