‘It’s not what I wanted’ says Northampton councillor whose campaign led to his boss’s resignation

Councillor James Hill, outside the Barn Owl in Rectory Farm. A campaign to keep the pub has - ultimately - resulted in the resignation of the councuil leader.

Councillor James Hill, outside the Barn Owl in Rectory Farm. A campaign to keep the pub has - ultimately - resulted in the resignation of the councuil leader.

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The councillor whose campaign to save a Northampton pub led to the leader of the authority standing down, has told of his regret that the move led to her resignation.

Councillor James Hill took over the Rectory Farm ward in 2015 when previous council leader David Mackintosh left the authority to become an MP.

But his campaign to save the Barn Owl pub, a two-storey venue in the heart of his ward, from being shut down has now led to a feud within his Conservative group.

Councillor Hill called on the council to enact a 1980s covenant stopping the pub from being turned into a Co-op store and won the support of a number of his Tory colleagues.

But the call put him at loggerheads with the leader, Councillor Mary Markham, who said the move could leave the council facing legal bills of up to £200,000.

On Friday night it emerged Councillor Markham would stand down as a result of the feud.

Speaking to the Chron, Councillor Hill said he regretted the outcome.

He said: “I’m really disappointed Mary has gone it’s not what I wanted or expected.

“I have been working closely with her since I was elected and she has always been very approachable.”

Councillor Markham said she had to stand down because she would not be able to “stand up in front of the public in 12 months’ time” and “explain how we had lost £200,000.”

Hawthorn Leisure has since closed the Barn Owl, though Councillor Markham wanted her cabinet to agree a deal where the Co-op could keep the upstairs room open as a community venue.

It is still not clear why the proposed deal with the Co-op prompted such a backlash from her Conservative colleagues.

Even Councillor Hill agrees the pub in its current form was too big and not a viable business.

However, he felt he had to back the campaign in his ward because more than 550 people wrote letters of objection to the scheme and maintains his main issue with the plans was the lack of consultation carried out by Hawthorn Leisure.

He felt a new store on Olden Road, Rectory Farm, would put paid to a nearby Costcutter which has been in the area for 25 years.

“They just weren’t entertaining the community’s ideas,” he said. “Maybe that situation is going to be different now.”

A decision on who will take over as leader of Northampton Borough Council will be taken in the coming days.

The authority is currently in the hands of deputy leader, Councillor Jonanthan Nunn, (Con, Nene Valley) who will chair the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.