Northampton community loses battle to save pub...but might be offered a meeting room upstairs

Hawthorn Leisure has won its bid to turn the Barn Owl into a Co-op store despite a wealth of opposition.
Hawthorn Leisure has won its bid to turn the Barn Owl into a Co-op store despite a wealth of opposition.
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A lengthy bid to save a Northampton pub from being turned into a shop was finally defeated last night - though its soon-to-be tenants might offer residents a room upstairs to meet in.

The controversial bid to turn the Barn Owl in Olden Road, Rectory Farm into a Co-op food store had garnered an unprecedented 552 letters of objection - more than a third of the entire population of Rectory Farm.

But last night Northampton Borough Council’s planning committee approved the plan, despite the wealth of opposition.

Speaking at the meeting director of Hawthorn Leisure Gautam Chhabra said the Co-op would be willing “in principle” to offer Rectory Farm residents a community room on the first floor of the premises, when it opens.

But Chair of the residents’ association, Keith Holland Delamere, believes that if the company had consulted with residents when they originally decided to sell the pub in August last year, a much better compromise could have been reached.

He said; “The possibility of us getting the community room is by no means certain.

“It could be bogged down in all sorts of access issues.

“We would certainly welcome it if it came off, but now we just hope the Co-op keeps to its agreement.

“At least that would offer us a crumb of democracy.”

Hawthorn leisure claimed its market research showed there was a desire for a shop in the area. A total of 55 per cent of people they surveyed, were either in favour of the plans or indifferent, March’s planning committee heard.

But though the application was sound in planning law, Mr Holland Delamere says a key community hub has been “gutted.”

In recent years the Pig and Whistle, The Silver Horse and the Ecton Brook pubs have all disappeared from the nearby area.

Hawthorn Leisure bought the Barn Owl in 2014 along with 400 other Greene King pubs.

Director Mr Chhabra said the company decided to sell it as it was no longer making money.

Committee member, Councillor Jamie Lane, asked him whether the company had considered other community uses such as a “doctors’ surgery, a dentists, a gym?”

But Mr Chhabra claimed market research showed there was no desire for them.

“After all I am running a commercial business here,” he added. “If someone wants to make an offer for the premises they can do so at a commercial rate.”

A decision on the plans had been deferred from last month’s planning committees to give The Rectory Farm Residents’ Association time to meet with Hawthorn Leisure, in hope both parties could hammer out a compromise that kept part of the building for community use.

Rectory Farm’s Councillor James Hill, speaking at the committee said he felt the eventual offer of a room upstairs “was better than nothing.”

The new Co-op will create 25 jobs, Hawthorn says, and will include an in-store bakery.