A stay of execution for key site in the centre of village

The former SPAR site in the centre of Longhoughton.
The former SPAR site in the centre of Longhoughton.

A determined fight to try to safeguard a key village site for community use in the future has received a boost and a strategy for the way ahead is being planned.

Earlier this month, we reported that Longhoughton Parish Council had submitted a Community Right to Bid (CRB) application to Northumberland County Council.

It related to the ex-SPAR site and post office, which closed in 2016. The building – still home to a hairdressing salon – is owned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which had planned to sell it at auction last week. There was community concern that a buyer might want it for housing.

However, the DIO was forced to pull the property from auction after the county council approved the CRB application. This means that the building has been listed on the Public Register of Assets of Community Value for five years.

It also means that a six-week Moratorium Disposal has been triggered, in order for the community to prepare a potential bid for the property.

This is being led by a steering group – comprising parish councillors and other organisations and individuals – and discussions will be held with various parties who might be interested in the property.

If, during this initial six weeks, it is confirmed that a serious bid will be forthcoming, a full six-month moratorium will start, in which the owner cannot sell the asset and the community can prepare its bid to purchase the property.

However, if after the six weeks, it is considered that a serious bid will not come, the DIO would be free to sell the property.

Villagers will hope, though, that a community bid can be prepared, with locals determined to safeguard the site, with ideas proposed so far including a pub/restaurant, post-office facilities, public health centre, creation of other retail/service outlets, public toilets, heritage centre and the continuation of the hair salon. It may be possible to create a mutli-occupancy site.

Parish council chairman Eleanor Phillips said: “This is an important building and there are numerous ideas for its future community use. During this initial six weeks, we will take our time to make contact with lots of potential organisations who might want to make use of the building.”

In correspondence seen by the Gazette, the DIO has stated that its intention is for the property is be re-listed on its online auction platform, where all interested parties have the chance to bid, adding that it doesn’t intend to agree an off-market sale. The DIO is also considering whether it has grounds to appeal the Assets of Community Value listing.