Popular Lancaster cafe forced to close 'will be missed by many people'

The owners of a popular café claim they are in ‘no man’s land’, after closing the business against their wishes.

By Louise Bryning
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 12:30 pm

Green Finch Café at Conder Green survived pandemic lockdowns but won’t re-open this spring after the owners fell foul of some mortgage and planning rules.

“Some people think that we can’t be bothered to run the café but that’s not the case,” said Nigel Barnes.

“We wanted to run the business, employ people and provide a nice café in a lovely spot but we are being forced to close simply because of the arcane lending criteria of the banks and building societies.”

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Green Finch Cafe was popular with visitors, particularly walkers and cyclists.

The problem arose after Mr Barnes and his wife, Jackie, began looking for a new mortgage deal on their home, Railway Cottage, next door to the café.

However, he claims that because the house is next to a business, several banks and building societies have refused a mortgage, stating that his home would be difficult to sell, should ever it be repossessed.

The Barnes’s original 10-year mortgage deal was with a company that no longer exists.

The couple resorted to applying for planning permission to convert the café into residential use but have been thwarted by the city council which has refused the application as it doesn’t comply with planning policy.

Nigel and Jackie Barnes outside the Green Finch cafe at Conder Green.

“We have worked hard, paid our taxes, employed people, provided a service and all the while, worked on the front line fighting Covid, me as an ICU nurse and Jackie in the district, yet we are treated like second class citizens,” said Mr Barnes.

A council spokesperson said: "While the council has every sympathy for the applicants, this does not override the duty of the planning system to preserve local amenities.”

"The applicant has failed to provide evidence that the current use no longer provides an economic and social value for the community or provided evidence that a robust and transparent marketing exercise has taken place to demonstrate that the retention of the existing use is no longer economically viable or feasible.”

Mr Barnes has also brought the issue to the attention of local MPs and councillors.

Lancaster MP, Cat Smith had made enquiries on his behalf but was unable to resolve the problem.

“It is regrettable that lenders have not shown more flexibility in supporting my constituent and this community business,” Ms Smith said.

Ward County Coun Gina Dowding added that she was sorry about the Barnes’s situation.

“I have no doubt that the café will be missed by many people - both visitors and the local community. After visiting Mr Barnes, my colleague Coun Tim Dant provided as much assistance as he could."With regard to Mr Barnes’ other option of turning the café into a residential property - the council 's local plan has to operate within the national policy framework, which I realise can sometimes be frustrating.”

Mr Barnes has now launched an online petition to raise awareness of the issue which has attracted more than 400 signatures.

The petition is on change.org and can be signed here