A Conservative councillor’s hope of re-negotiating the lease of his cafe in Northampton has come up against objections, with some accusing the council of allowing a colleague a catering “monopoly” over the park.
Councillor Tony Ansell (Con, Abington) came under fire last year when the seating area of his the Park Cafe appeared to be spreading over the greens. Now he has approached the council to “formalise” his seating area - but as part of the that the Conservative member wants his colleagues to grant him a new 25 year lease. He has 13 years remaining on his present lease. But at Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting, members of the public and Labour Councillors opposed the idea, saying the cafe - once known as the Old Oak - should be the subject to a tendering process.
Councillor Ansell says he has invested thousands into a building he is only a tenant of and only needs to expand its seating area because his business is so popular. Keen to stoke their ongoing feud however, Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Castle) said there needs to be a whole new “catering strategy” drawn up for Abington Park. “Why should there be a monopoly over the park?”, she said. “People have asked me why there wasn’t a proper tendering process. It seems there is one rule for councillors and another rule for other people.” Cabinet member for regeneration, Councillor Tim Hadland (Con, Old Duston) said the vote on Wednesday night was just to decide on whether to initiate a consultation for the seating area. It was approved. But member of the public, Ann Wishart, said the request for a 25-year extension was unusually “excessive” when most leases run for 10 years. Councillor Zoe Smith (Lab, Abington) added: “I am concerned about what appears to be a monopoly of not only catering in the park, but almost one person claiming ownership of the park, rather than it belonging to the people.” Though Councillor Ansell pays no rates on the Park Cafe, he does pay £172,00 a year in rent and has used his own money to renovate the public building.
He believes the objection to his lease is politically fuelled.
“The last time I applied for a lease I went round the country looking at parks and so many people told me they would be proud to have a cafe like ours,” he said.
“I don’t understand why people are against it.”
And on the seating he said: “The park is 117 acres in size, it’s not like I’m taking over the whole park.” Councillor Hadland said there would be consultation on the extension of the lease at another stage. He said: “This report is all about advertising the loss of public open space and the procedure for doing that. “If I had a crystal ball I would say it is likely there will be some objections to the process. The process will then go on to consider the new lease.”