THE boss of a Michelin Guide-listed restaurant only learned of his hotel landlord’s plans to turn his premises into student digs from a customer at the till.

James O’Leary, co-owner of Finbarrs, in Durham City, which is included in the Michelin, Harden’s and Good Food guides, hopes Durham County Council will refuse Barbara Murphy planning permission to convert the Kingslodge Hotel building, which includes his restaurant, into rooms for 57 students.

A public consultation on the scheme closed on Friday, (June 27).

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Mr O’Leary said: “I’ve built up a well-established business.

“I could move elsewhere, but sites like this don’t come up in Durham very often.”

Mr O’Leary revealed he only learned of Ms Murphy’s plans, which include turning his restaurant into a communal area for students, from a customer, who mentioned it while paying his bill.

The hotelier later apologised for the “oversight”, Mr O’Leary said, and he emphasised his relationship with his landlord was “fine”.

The Shildon-based restaurateur, who ran Terry Laybourne’s Bistro 21 venue from 1997 to 2007, opened Finbarrs in early 2010, re-mortgaging his house and taking out personal loans to finance its refurbishment.

The restaurant now employs 35 full- and part-time staff and its business includes providing meals for Kingslodge Hotel guests.

The student digs proposals have met with opposition from residents who say there are already too many students in the area and others who want to see the hotel preserved.

No-one from the Kingslodge Hotel responded to The Northern Echo’s request for comment.

Further details on the proposals can be found at, with the reference DM/14/01418/OUT