Former church set to become restaurant

John O'Connor pictured outside the restraunt.

John O'Connor pictured outside the restraunt.

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A ROOFING boss is celebrating after councillors voted unanimously to allow him to open a restaurant in a former church.

John O’Connor will open the smart new venue at St Andrew’s Church, in York Place, on Hartlepool’s Headland, and it will also run as a tearoom during the day.

Mr O’Connor said he was “ecstatic” with the news as he had been working on the building, which dates back to 1886, since he bought it derelict 16 years ago and it had been “a labour of love”.

He added: “If I didn’t care about the heritage on the Headland I wouldn’t have invested 16 years of my time and finance.”

Mr O’Connor, of long-established town firm O’Connor Roofing Services, was granted permission to open a tearoom in 2007 but applied to open up as a restaurant due to the financial climate and public demand.

The granddad-of-five, of Seaton Carew, said he had originally fallen in love with the building when he worked on its roof as a lad in 1964.

He said at times the work and regulations had been a “nightmare” but added: “Would I do it again? Only for the sake of my grandchildren’s heritage.

“It was derelict when I bought it.

“But the alterations and restorations I have carried out have added at least another 150 years to the building.”

Mr O’Connor, who is married to Daphne, said the project had been “neighbour-friendly” and hundreds of people who were invited to have a look around the venture told him they were happy he was regenerating the building, rather than allowing it to go to rack and ruin like other buildings on the Headland.

He said when the building would open was “a million-dollar question” as he now needs to go through the licensing process to get permission to sell alcohol.

The restaurant, which is to be called Mary Rowntree’s, after a church-goer, will cater for up to 82 people.

Weddings and christenings could be held at the Grade II-listed building, which will be open from 9am until 11pm from Monday to Saturday and from 9am until 10pm on Sundays.

Two letters of objection were received in relation to the application, stating noise and late-night disturbance and parking problems as reasons.

Headland Parish Council had asked for its use to be limited to a tea room/unlicensed restaurant and its hours to be limited to 7pm.

But Mr O’Connor gathered a 874-name petition in support of the plans.

A report to Hartlepool Borough Council’s planning committee said the restaurant would have less potential impact on neighbouring properties as a pub such as the nearby Harbour of Refuge.

It added that the previous uses of the building would have had similar parking demands to its proposed use.

The report recommended approval of the plans, saying: “The applicant has clearly spent a great deal of time and resources to restore the building to a high specification turning what was a vacant and decaying listed building into a significant asset to the Headland.”