Window row proves a pane for Kettering hotel owner

Raj Punni. NNL-191206-102947005
Raj Punni. NNL-191206-102947005

The owner of an iconic Kettering hotel says he’s been made to feel like a criminal over a row about windows.

The Royal Hotel in Market Place is a Grade II Listed building but was in a state of disrepair and had been squatted before Raj Punni bought it and re-opened it after a cash injection of £1m.

Left, the unauthorised windows with right, the required windows. NNL-191206-102957005

Left, the unauthorised windows with right, the required windows. NNL-191206-102957005

Mr Punni claims a number of windows were changed from the required white timber sash style to aluminium or PVC by the previous owners.

He has since replaced a handful of unsafe windows with a style Kettering Council say is unsuitable - and could be left counting the cost after being served with legal action to replace every window that doesn’t meet the listed building requirements.

Mr Punni said: “I don’t have the money to pay for all of these windows.

“If I don’t they might prosecute me. Then what will happen to the hotel?”

One of the unauthorised windows. NNL-191206-102936005

One of the unauthorised windows. NNL-191206-102936005

It’s believed between 105 and 110 windows need changing with Mr Punni estimating the works will cost upwards of £250,000.

Officers from Kettering Council visited the hotel and cautioned Mr Punni over the works before handing him a listed building enforcement notice.

He has until October 19 to make the required changes and said the row is giving him sleepless nights.

He said: “They made me feel like a criminal.”

A council spokesman said that Mr Punni has a duty to undertake changes having first obtained consent as the owner.

The spokesman said: “Mr Punni has advised that it is the first time he has owned a listed building and yet, to our knowledge, he had not engaged professional advice on this aspect before alterations were undertaken.

“On April 12, it was brought to our attention that several windows were being removed and replaced without consent. The supervisor of the work that day was cautioned and advised to stop.

“The same day, the hotel manager was given a letter advising that the works were illegal and they should desist further and engage a suitably skilled and experienced heritage expert and seek pre-application advice.

“The nature of the windows put in are unsuitable for a listed building.

“It was subsequently reported to us that further illegal works continued the following day. The illegal works are a criminal offence.”

Mr Punni said he should not be responsible for changes made prior to him taking on the hotel and that some staff are looking for other work because of fears about the consequences of the legal action.

He asked for heritage funding to help pay for the windows and had even asked for the hotel to be de-listed but was turned down.

He claimed the council were “not interested” in working with him, had not replied to his emails requesting help and that the required single-glazed windows were not environmentally friendly.

He added: “If we have to pull all of the windows out and board them up that will make the place look derelict.

“Who wants to stay in a derelict hotel?”

A council spokesman said they would work with Mr Punni’s advisor to restore suitable windows. They categorically denied a claim by the hotel owner that they were serving the notice because he declined a request to use the premises for emergency accommodation adding that they had never asked Mr Punni for use of the hotel.

The spokesman said: “The notice was served on Mr Punni in person on May 22 and it was solely because of the harm to the heritage building and for no other unrelated reason.

“It was a proportionate response of the local planning authority and in line with national and local planning policies.”

The Royal Hotel is steeped in history with Queen Victoria staying in room 12 in 1844.

Charles Dickens stayed in the hotel in 1835 as a reporter for the Morning Chronicle covering the Northamptonshire elections.

The hotel was owned by the Duke of Buccleuch until 1896.