Council demands to blame for Daventry business owner's crippling financial situation

The Daventry business owner who faces losing her shop after renovating its medieval frontage says district council demands have led to her crippling financial situation.

Saturday, 14th April 2018, 7:02 am
Updated Saturday, 14th April 2018, 8:01 am
Dawn Branigan pictured outside First Light Photographic on Daventry High Street

Dawn Branigan, 57, has been forced to spend a staggering £150,000 on renovations to the Grade-II listed building at 3-3a High Street, which dates back to 1450.

After being told to renovate the medieval building to match the town's Georgian theme in line with conservation laws, Dawn was then forced to take out a loan to cover costs but the work was delayed as she failed to find a suitable builder and was held up by the conservation officer.

Dawn Branigan pictured outside First Light Photographic on Daventry High Street

She says as a result of work over-running "due to circumstances beyond her control" she has been slapped with £17,000 worth of financial penalties, which could now see her business - First Light Photographic - fold.

"It took almost 18 months to get the planning application to be heard, which of course, was turned down," said Dawn.

"They said the half-timbered facade and oriel windows of the original frontage which we planned to restore would be 'an anomaly in a largely Georgian street-scene' and 'would detract from more important listed assets'.

"An appeal was lodged and heard by the Planning Inspectorate, who found in our favour, although we were not awarded costs.

Dawn Branigan pictured outside First Light Photographic on Daventry High Street

"We had been under scaffolding for two years by this point and turnover was clearly suffering due to the unsightly nature of the scaffolding at the front of the shop.

"During that time we were unable to get a builder as we were unable to ask for any quotes, as we had no clue what we would be asking the builder to quote on.

"Were we going to be half-timbered or rendered? Were we going to have oriel windows or Georgian windows? And so the list went on.

"It had taken me a further 18 months to find a suitable contractor and I finally found a project manager in September 2016."

Dawn says during the course of the build, which began in April 2017, she was on numerous occasions visited by a council conservation officer who delayed work because they felt the project was deviating from the specifications set out by the Planning Inspectorate.

The delays meant the project overran and incurred financial penalties with the lender.

"I think the council are completely responsible for me incurring the fines," said Dawn.

"If I didn't have to carry out these restorations then I wouldn't have needed to take out the loan.

"Also all the time that was wasted and the number of times the construction was put on hold due to the conversation officer.

"That put a pause on my business and affected me financially.

"The total cost of the renovation was £150,000. It was funded totally by myself from cashing in pensions and endowments, topped up by the bridging finance, which was all that was available to me at the time, as I could no longer demonstrate affordability, due to the downturn in turnover.

"These financial penalties are horrible - I could face losing my livelihood."

Daventry District Council agreed that repairs to the High Street building were necessary, but didn't consider the alterations to be in keeping with the town centre's Conservation Area mainly 18th Century Georgian design, hence its rejection of the planning applications.

Maria Taylor, community manager at Daventry District Council, said: “The council, which consulted with both the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and English Heritage in coming to its decision, also felt there was insufficient evidence that the installation of oriel windows was a faithful representation of how the building would have looked in the 15th century.

“After determining the application in May 2014, the council suggested the applicant submit a new proposal for the repairs only, so that this element of the work could be carried out without delay. However, the applicant instead decided to submit an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, which was allowed following a hearing in February 2015.

“Since this time our Conservation Officer has done all they can to help the applicant meet the conditions required by the planning permission, signing off the necessary paperwork promptly and taking a flexible approach to agreeing minor changes to the work to ensure the project was not delayed.

“The council has a duty to preserve and protect the identity and heritage of the district, and our Conservation Officer attempted to work with the applicant throughout the process in order to find the best solution for everyone concerned.

"This was also the view of the government planning inspector, who concluded in his ruling that the council had behaved reasonably and properly throughout the application and appeal process.”

Dawn is crowdfunding to help her raise enough money to help raise funds to keep her business afloat, and which will be put towards opening up the second floor of her shop in order to use it as an exhibition space for artists.

Anyone wishing to donate can do so here.