Concerns raised over council plan to spend £465k on reopening historic Northampton pub to support church
Castle friends group and councillor believe cash could be better used
Concerns have been raised about the council's plan to spend £465,000 on reopening a historic Northampton pub to support a neighbouring church.
West Northamptonshire Council is expected to agree to give the money to the Churches Conservation Trust for the Old Black Lion and St Peter’s Church project at a meeting today (Tuesday, October 12).
But the Friends of Northampton Castle and councillor Danielle Stone believe the cash would be better spent on making the Black Lion Hill pub into a visitor's centre.
Marie Dickie, from the group, said: "Obviously, we want to see these two important and beautiful buildings looked after and brought back into use for the town.
"Our vision for the Black Lion was for it to be used as a visitor’s centre and house some of the archives for the area.
"I am greatly concerned that all our community and voluntary effort to make our heritage assets accessible to the public is being ignored."
The council wants to give the church trust £315,000 from the £24.9 million government grant for rejuvenating the town and £150,000 of section 106 monies.
It will go towards repairing the Black Lion Hill public house and building an extension ahead of its reopening with profits being used to restore St Peter's Church.
Lizzy Bowen, council cabinet member for economic development, town centre regeneration and growth, said The Old Black Lion currently has a negative impact on St Peter’s Church and gives a negative impression of the town to people arriving from the train station.
“It has a wealth of original features and is grade II-listed, so we want to ensure a sympathetic renovation using the best conservation standards, in order to create a welcoming, financially viable and much-needed community venue," she said.
“The project will form the basis of our wider regeneration vision for the Marefair area and will provide an anchor point for the new ‘heritage gateway’ area of the town which will link to and support the town’s thriving Cultural Quarter.
“We are also very pleased to be delivering this project with the Churches Conservation Trust, who have successfully managed St Peter’s for almost 25 years and have exciting plans for both buildings going forward.”
Ms Dickie claims her group was not consulted about the pub's future uses and believes it should not be for commercial purposes, especially when the church trust has a £1.84-million National Heritage Lottery Fund grant for the scheme.
Councillor Stone, who represents Castle ward on the council for the Labour party, said: “Yet again the local community is being sidelined.
"I ask West Northants council to please do what they say on the tin. Help us help you, to make these amazing assets survive and thrive.
"These are the jewels in Northampton’s crown. The vision in the neighbourhood plan is for our heritage assets to become the living heart of our community - that our children learn from, tourists flock to see, that local residents take pride in.
"Piecemeal development and taking decisions away from us is not the way to go.”
A 30-year lease of the building to the Churches Conservation Trust is also recommended, with the first 12 years offered at a peppercorn rent and a clause allowing the trust to purchase the building from the council at a later date.
The trust is supported by the Friends of St Peter’s, a group of volunteers who help to care for the grade I-listed church.
Churches Conservation Trust chief executive Peter Aiers said: “We are really excited to be working on this innovative venture - our team brings considerable experience of community-led regeneration of church buildings - and the skills we have developed are directly applicable to help tackle the problem of struggling high streets.
“After years of work by many people I am overjoyed that the project is moving into this new and exciting phase.
"We are extremely grateful to all of our partners and funders for their continued support and belief in this bold and complex scheme.”