VILLAGERS could try to buy their local pub to save it from being turned into a house.
Residents in Mitford have formed an action group in a bid to save The Plough.
The pub has been vacant for about 18 months and a planning application has been lodged by Newcastle Estates to turn it into a dwelling house, arguing that it is no longer viable as a business.
However, Mitford Parish Council is opposing the plan and more than 40 residents turned up at a meeting last week to call for the pub to be saved.
Parish Chairman Mike Sharp said: “We invited residents to come along to the parish meeting because we really wanted to gauge support in the village for retaining The Plough.
“We had over 40 people in the hall, which is unheard of for a parish council meeting. The vast majority were strongly in favour of retaining The Plough as a public house.
“Several years ago we lost the village shop and two years ago we lost the post office. A number of people thought the pub could be used for more than just a public house, such as selling food and providing other services.
“The Plough Inn is our last community facility, apart from the hall and the church. Its loss would take the heart out of Mitford and turn it into a commuter village.”
Coun Sharp said that planning policy supports the retention of local services and the pub could still run as a successful business, particularly if it diversifies.
“There were tenants in The Plough previously who were running a successful pub so that demonstrates that it could be viable with the right management and the right vision,” he said.
“Mitford is a prosperous community so it is simply not credible to say that the only pub in the village could not be viable.”
The parish council will make a formal objection to the change of use, and villagers are also making long-term plans of their own.
Coun Sharp said: “We recognise that simply opposing the application is not going to get our pub back. We suspect that the pub will stay empty.
“We have formed an action group with the objective of going down the route of a community share issue. The aim is to put a bid in for the pub so we can run it as a community asset.
“We are not trying to re-invent the wheel here. There are examples across the country of this being done, not only to save pubs, but also for shops and post offices.
“The action group was formed at the meeting and is looking into fund-raising.”
However, Miles Hewitt, of Newcastle Estates, insists the pub is not a viable business.
He said: “The Plough was first closed down about eight years ago by Scottish and Newcastle because it was making a loss, then there were seven tenants over six or seven years and none of them could make it work.
“We all love the pub and it is a crying shame what has happened, but there have been an average of 12 pubs a week closing down over the past six years, particularly rural pubs.
“The concern is that we have an empty property. We would maintain it, but when you have a property not being used in a residential district it is unfortunate.
“We would love the pub to be a pub, but it is just not feasible as a business.”
Mr Hewitt said the loss of car parking space to housing development in recent years has exacerbated the problem, with the number of bays falling far short of modern standards.
“If this was a residential site and you wanted to turn it into a pub or restaurant you would not get planning consent because of the lack of parking space,” he said.
The application will be determined by Northumberland County Council.