Restoration of historic vacant Northampton pub step closer after council approves £465,000 grant and lease
Local brewery preferred to take over operations while concerns raised about apparent lack of engagement
The restoration of a historic vacant Northampton pub has gone a step closer after the council agreed to give £465,000 to the project at a meeting last night (Tuesday, October 13).
West Northamptonshire Council's cabinet agreed to provide £315,000 from a £24.9-million government grant and £150,000 from section 106 funds for the Old Black Lion scheme.
Two councillors raised concerns about some residents feeling like they were not aware of the plan to reopen it as a pub rather than turn it into a heritage or visitors centre.
Cabinet member for economic development, town centre regeneration and growth, Lizzy Bowen, said: "I think it's a magnificent project, it's an amazing opportunity and it's the start of great things to come."
The funds will go towards repairing the Black Lion Hill public house and building an extension ahead of being reopened, with profits being used to restore the neighbouring St Peter's Church.
The project was one of 10 schemes included in Northampton's bid for £24.9 million from the government's Towns Fund, which was agreed in March.
The cabinet approved a business case the project so the £315,000 could be 'drawn down' from the overall fund.
Council leader Jonathan Nunn said Phipps had been considered as a potential operator for the pub but it will be down to the church trust to decide.
A 30-year lease of the building to the Churches Conservation Trust was also agreed, 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 majority of the funding for the £2.66-million scheme is being provided by a £1.84-million National Heritage Lottery Fund grant, with other contributions from the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation and the Churches Conservation Trust.
Councillor Bowen added: "It is a building we have a responsibility to look after. It is a heritage asset that requires considerable investment, something this council could not do on its own.
"Likewise the church has historical significance way beyond what we could afford in this county.
"I really do believe there is a benefit to the population both locally and in the community of Northampton and Northamptonshire and that significance of it being a gateway into the town.
"We need to make it good and proper and right for people coming from the train station and beyond to enter our town and for people to feel like they're welcome."
However not everyone was happy about the project - Castle ward councillor Danielle Stone said a third of the population of Spring Boroughs are Muslim so would not go to a pub.
The Labour councillor said the fact the pub failed as a business, along with another in the area, suggests the enterprise is not suitable, and it would be better as a heritage or visitor centre.
"There's a lot of unhappiness about this proposal, I have to say," she said during the meeting.
"I think it's right that public money if it's used for commercial enterprises is okay if there's a tangible benefit to the community and added social value and those are the things I'm querying really."
Councillor Bowen said the scheme had to have a commercial aspect to receive some of the other grants - a cafe was considered unviable so a pub was preferred.
The pub has been closed since 2018 and its historic fabric, dating from the 16th century, is deteriorating, according to the council officer's report.
It has been subject to break-ins and criminal activity plus its poor condition has a negative effect on the setting of St Peter’s Church, Marefair, and on people’s first impressions of Northampton when arriving from the railway station, it adds.
Councillor Gareth Eales supported the proposal but was unclear about the plan to make it a 'proper pub' meant, saying it made him sound like a character from Eastenders.
The Labour councillor also lamented the impression of some feeling they were not consulted and urged the council to make its communications 'slicker', as well as ensuring a 'local' brewery runs the pub.
Deputy leader Adam Brown insisted there has been 'significant local engagement' on this issue from various organisations and the church trust was surprised by the concerns.
Councillor Nunn added: "This is not going to match everybody's religious preferences and dietary requirements and all sorts of other things.
"There is a big bunch of people who are going to get an awful lot out of this project but it won't watch everybody.
"It's located in Spring Boroughs but it's at the entrance to the town and for people to enjoy the heritage of the town."