For the majority of Oundle residents, the Riverside Hotel on Station Road is nothing but an eyesore; ‘a very considerable blot on the landscape’ which greets them as they enter the town from the A605 roundabout. The hotel closed in 1986 and the premises have been vacant ever since.
In late 2016 there was renewed activity in relation to the property when a planning application was submitted to give the site a new lease of life. The application was for 40 two and three bedroom apartments and associated site works. However, before a decision could be made, the application was withdrawn in December 2016.
Chair of Oundle Town Council Planning Committee David Chapple said: ‘Unfortunately there has been a long history of planning applications which have either been withdrawn or not granted, and others which although granted, have not been implemented. The withdrawal of the latest application, therefore, is sadly all too predictable.’
Variously referred to as a pub and an inn, it is named as a hotel in its planning papers.
Over the years there have been numerous applications, starting with an application for an 80 bedroom hotel in 1993 (which was first renewed in 1996, and again for a further three years in 1999). After not being implemented, this application was replaced by two separate applications in 2001. They included a request for change of use to offices, and a development of eight houses and eight holiday flats. Both these applications were withdrawn. In 2002 further consultation for a hotel and car park was undertaken, and in 2005 outline planning permission was granted for an 80 room hotel with restaurant and conference facilities. Over the years this was renewed three more times but never progressed. There have been three more applications for reserved matters relating to the hotel in 2009, 2011 and 2012, all of which were considered and permitted.
The site falls within the parish of Ashton rather than Oundle, and is owned by the Rothschild family, who also own the Ashton Estate. The family descend from Mayer Amschel Rothschild who along with his five sons created an international banking dynasty. The immense success of their banking empire meant that at one point they were one of the wealthiest families in the world and are said to have owned the largest private fortune in modern history.
The village of Ashton was originally built by a branch of the Rothschild family and the cottages in the village housed the estate workers. The Riverside Hotel was built in 1845 opposite the former railway station. Despite selling off a large proportion of the estate in recent years, the family has not sought to sell the Riverside Hotel site.
Both Ashton Parish Council and Oundle Town Council have lobbied for many years for the site to be sympathetically redeveloped. Like the residents of Oundle, Ashton would like to see the site reach its full potential.
Due to its status as ‘derelict’ the property has been exempt from business rates since 1993. Similarly, no council tax is due on the
Councillor Chapple said: ‘While it remains as it is, the first impression that visitors to Oundle get of the town is not at all a positive one. This is a pity given the efforts that have been made over the years to improve and develop the Wharf area and the Riverside Maltings.’
The Town and Country Planning Act does give local councils limited authority to make owners take action to clean up any high street, town centre or rural site, derelict or semi-complete building if they are ‘adversely affecting the amenity of the local area’, and councils are ‘encouraged to use this power proactively’.
East Northamptonshire Council policy on derelict properties states: ‘We do not have any legal powers to require commercial premises to be brought back into use but we do have some powers to deal with issues that may affect the sites. Common problems experienced at empty commercial units include the building becoming insecure, allowing access inside the property, which can result in the theft and damage inside; fly tipping and littering on land and the sites becoming overgrown.’
The Ashton Estate declined to respond to queries about why the most recent application was withdrawn and whether they have any firm plans for its development. Understandably the residents of Oundle are concerned about the uncertain future of this site, which has been derelict for over 30 years.