Huge restaurant and student flat plan for Northampton's Balestra nightclub greenlit - despite 'serious' warnings from police and fire service
A large-scale plan to convert a derelict Northampton nightclub and the building above it into a buffet restaurant and 69 student flats has been approved.
On June 28, Northampton Borough Council's planning board greenlit the scheme to turn the former Balestra nightclub on Market Square into a 42,000 sq ft 'World Buffet' restaurant.
Meanwhile, the four floors above the buffet will be refitted into 69 one-bed ensuite student flats.
The plan by Land Investment Ltd on behalf of Cosmo Restaurants could prove to be one of the largest developments of its kind for Northampton after the nightclub closed in 2013.
But the planning board have given the proposal the thumbs-up despite stern warnings by the police and fire service.
As part of the consultation, Northamptonshire Police and the Fire and Rescue Service wrote to the council with "severe reservations" about the planning and how student accommodation has been "abused" across the town.
The letter lists a rap sheet of potential problems for the Balestra plan - from fire safety to the risk of attracting crime, rough sleepers and anti-social behaviour.
A letter to the planning board by crime prevention design adviser Sharon Henley reads: "Both Northants Fire and Rescue Service and Northants Police have very serious reservations about this application.
"We do not consider that it is possible to create a safe and crime-free environment.
[Our comments] are made in light of what is known about the abuse of other student accommodation in the town and the difficulties associated with providing an environment which complies with fire safety legislation."
Problems include how a two-way fob-accessed door into the students' bike locker is also the fire escape for the restaurant.
Meanwhile, police believe the security of the plan is lacking and could be "abused" for drug dealing and "cuckooing" crime.
The force also has concerns about rough sleepers using the accommodation block.
The letter reads: "Security of the premises, or potential lack of it, could also result in rough sleepers being attracted to the area.
"Once rough sleepers gain access to the premises others will be attracted to try, resulting in the potential associated issues such as drug-taking and or alcohol abuse which we have found go hand in hand with arson-related issues."
Mrs Henley signs off by saying the police and fire service have "serious reservations" about the plan and ask developers to beef up security and reconsider their fire safety plans.
After Mrs Henley's letter on June 19, revised plans were submitted by the developers
The planning board approved the plan and ruled the proposal "would not have a significant adverse impact... upon neighbour amenity, crime and safety."
The height and cavernous nature of the building is owed to the fact it used to be the town's grand Corn Exchange. It has been extended and changed over time and used as a YMCA, dance hall, music hall and cinema.
Following the closure of the cinema the building was used as a bingo hall before being converted into a bar and nightclub. The nightclub use ceased in 2013. The property has since remained vacant.
It was first offered for sale in January 2012 for £1.1 million. It attracted few offers, mainly because of the poor condition of the upper floors, which prospective buyers could see little commercial use for.
After the price reduction, to £800,000 four offers were submitted but declined. One was from a nightclub, whose bid failed to progress past heads of terms.
Cosmo bought the building in May 2014, but the sale price has not been disclosed in the council papers.