Country pub faces three more months of misery

A COUNTRY pub that has lost a third of its trade during extensive bridge works is facing another three months of misery.

Takings at the Dyke Neuk in Meldon have plummeted by £20,000 on the same period last year after the main route to the inn from Whalton and Ponteland was closed for repairs to Meldon Bridge.

The work began in October and was scheduled to last 15 weeks, ending in late January.

But the repairs are still not complete and now pub owners Steven and Darren Forster have been told they could go on until July, with the road closed until May.

The brothers managed to secure diversion signs and organised a shuttle service from a footbridge to try to encourage customers to continue calling in.

However, they have already been forced to lay off staff as regular trade dried up, and now the busy tourist season is under threat.

Steven said: “It’s an absolute nightmare. This is just totally killing our trade. We have lost about a third of our regular customers. We lost a lot of bookings before Christmas and the weather didn’t help, but we had the same problem with the weather last year and we have lost £20,000 of trade from then.

“We are still picking staff and customers up from the footbridge, but people are just not taking the diversion route because it is all windy roads and takes too long.

“We have had to cut the staff right back, which wasn’t very nice, especially around Christmas.”

The owners did have plans to extend the pub and provide more letting rooms, but now they are just struggling to survive.

“We are mortgaged to everything,” said Steven. “We are just going to have to borrow money and are trying to remortgage our homes at the moment.

“We were hoping to get the refurbishment done and get some more rooms put in by getting finance to do it, but those plans have gone out the window now.

“We’ve had the pub three-and-a-half years and this is definitely the worst period.”

The brothers have appealed to Northumberland County Council to pay compensation for their losses, but officials say they are unable to help.

Now they are asking any Herald readers who can offer advice to get in touch.

Steven said: “We’ve had meetings with the council and it is being fair enough with us, but it can’t do anything to help us financially. Obviously it wants the work done as quickly as we do.

“We are now asking for help from anybody who has had compensation in these circumstances, or who has been through anything like this before, to please get in touch and give us some advice.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council has admitted the bridge work is taking longer than expected due to the poor condition of the concrete.

She said: “The council expects that essential works to strengthen Meldon Bridge will not be completed until July. However, it is working to try to get the road open under traffic lights by May and has informed the Dyke Neuk about this intention.

“Unfortunately, the works were delayed before Christmas due to the ice and snow which the county experienced. Compounding this delay has been the extent of the concrete repairs, which has increased considerably due to the poor condition of the existing concrete and the need to ensure the bridge does not collapse.

“Concrete repairs require several operations and these series of operations cannot overlap. The concrete repairs need to be completed before new steel girders can be put in place.

“If these essential works had not been carried out, the road would have to be closed as the bridge in its old condition was under-strength and would have been unable to support the traffic using it.”