Barn Owl- FAQ
It is now approaching 2 years since the original planning application to change the Barn Owl Pub to a convenience store was applied for. With the proposed opening date approaching fast, I am more than aware that many residents are keen to know the current situation regarding the Borough Council’s position and the current legal situation. Below I have tried to answer many of the common questions which people have been asking.
What is a Covenant?
The full term, “Protective Building covenant” is a legal binding agreement which conditions the use of a particular building or area of land. In this case the Barn Owl covenant was set up by the old Northampton Corporation, the predecessor to Northampton Borough Council, when the pub was first built. There are several similar covenants throughout the town on both pubs and parks which are in place to protect the use of these community assets. The Covenant for the Barn Owl clearly states that the building is to be used as a “Public House” to serve the residents of Rectory Farm. Following the rejection by Northampton Borough Council’s Cabinet to accept the offer of £30,000 to remove the Covenant in November 2016, this legal stipulation on the building still remains in place to this day.
Who Owns the Building?
Hawthorn Leisure own the building. It is believed Co-op have signed a 15 year lease with Hawthorn Leisure to run a convenience store on the site.
If the Council don’t want the Co-Op to open why did they grant Planning Permission in the first place?
It may be hard to believe but under permitted development rights, Hawthorn Leisure didn’t actually need planning permission to change the use of the building from a pub into a shop. The only reason they needed to apply for planning approval was for the exterior changes made to the building. Planning laws mean that applications can only be rejected on “material planning reasons” and unfortunately the planning application did not breach any of these. Even with these factors however the campaign run by local residents meant that we managed to get the application deferred and even when it was eventually approved by planning committee nearly half of them voted against the application or abstained.
The Co-Op consider themselves to be a “Community Friendly Business”, why are they opening a shop when there is clear local opposition?
A few months ago myself and the Chair of Rectory Farm Resident Association met with the Manager and Area Manager of the new store. It became clear that the Co-Op were not aware of the controversy and opposition to the store before the lease agreement was signed with Hawthorn Leisure. It also appears that the pub was signed as a part of a larger deal involving 4 other pubs in the country. It is puzzling however that the Co-Op’s own research and investigation was so poor in this matter before signing any agreement.
What will happen if the Council proceed with legal Action?
If the council decide to proceed with legal action against Hawthorn Leisure, an injunction and stop order will be issued against the building meaning that the Co-Op will not be able to open and trade until the legal case has been resolved.
Would the Council win?
The legal advice given to the Council from its Counsel state there is a strong possibility that the Council would win the legal argument and in turn the case, however as with any court proceedings there is no guarantee of this and as such there is a risk of cost to the council if they were to loose.
The Co-Op is due to open 10th August, Why have the Council waited so long to take any action?
The Council have in fact already taken action and have issued several warning letters to both Hawthorn Leisure and the Co-op informing them of the legal situation regarding the Covenant, all of which have been ignored. Recently the council also issued draft particulars regarding its proposed legal action, again these have been ignored by Hawthorn Leisure.
In terms of actually beginning the legal process there a number of reasons as to why the council have not done this yet. If the council were to have issued the injunction earlier they would be potentially liable to loss of earnings claims from that date. As the shop is not open yet it wouldn’t make sense to have issued the order before it was actually needed. Also the breach of the Covenant would only actually happen once the trading begins, which not happen until they open.
If there is a legal battle and the Council are successful what will happen next?
Assuming the High Court agreed with the Council’s position, the Covenant would be upheld and the Co-Op would not be able to open. At this point it would be up to the developers, Hawthorn Leisure, to decide their next course of action.