A VILLAGE has issued an SOS to any would-be investors to save its Grade II-listed pub.
More than 130 people crammed into Hail Weston village hall on Tuesday last week to attend a meeting called just three days earlier by the parish council to draw up a battle plan.
Brewers Charles Wells sold the 17th century Royal Oak to Andy Vidler on November 30. But he was forced to put it on the market after suffering a stroke which left him blind in one eye, and the pub has not been open since he took control on January 1.
He has not found a buyer, so the property will be up for auction tomorrow (Thursday) with a guide price of £270,000.
Chairman of the Save the Royal Oak Campaign and Hunts CAMRA official Andy Shaw said there was a lot of support.
He said: “The parish meeting was attended by almost a quarter of adults in the village. Several options were explored, including support for purchasing shares in a community trust.
“We hope at the auction that either a potential licensee will be the buyer or that the property remains unsold to enable the village to put together its own proposal.”
Mr Shaw said villagers feared the pub and its extensive beer garden would be bought by developers and converted into homes.
But Huntingdonshire district councillor for Kimbolton and Staughton, Jonathan Gray, who attended the meeting, said changing the pub into a private house and selling the garden for development would be challenging because of planning constraints – village facilities are given some protection through planning policies.
He said the district council would be writing to the auctioneers to inform them of the situation. “This is a listed building and needs to be marketed as a pub at a fair and reasonable price.
“I was at the meeting to represent the people who sent me to HDC, and I’m delighted to do anything I can to help save the pub.”
One member of the Save the Royal Oak Campaign group is planning to attend the auction at Glaziers’ Hall, near London Bridge, to ensure the letters from both the parish and district council are read out.
When faced with a similar situation, villagers in Broughton bought their local, the Crown. It was turned into a successful dining pub and later sold.
Hail Weston resident Jen Abell said: “There are a lot of award-winning examples out there and I don’t know why we can’t be one of them.”
Villagers are aiming to get the Royal Oak listed as a community asset under the Localism Act when it becomes law in the autumn. This would make it almost impossible for the premises to be used as anything other than a pub.
INFORMATION: For details of the Save the Royal Oak campaign visit www.savetheroyaloak.org.uk