A special meeting of Longhoughton Parish Council is being held tomorrow, to discuss the future of a key site in the middle of the village.
The ex-SPAR shop, which also used to house the Post Office, shut its doors in spring 2016 and has been closed since then, although a hairdressing salon still operates from the plot.
The building, owned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, is up for sale as a going concern (with part of the property being leased out) and could be bought at auction on October 17.
However, the parish council is holding the meeting to discuss whether to proceed with a Community Right to Bid application, which would then need to be approved by Northumberland County Council.
This initiative gives community groups, such as parish councils, the chance to ensure that buildings and facilities, which are important to them, stay available for local use, by listing them as an asset of community value.
If this happens, when the owner wants to sell it, local community groups will have up to six months to prepare a bid to try to buy it on the open market.
It is understood that the ex-SPAR site has been eyed up for housing. That’s not to say that it would be turned into residential accommodation, but parish council vice-chairman Adrian Hinchcliffe says there is a desire to see it retained for community use.
He said: “We don’t know who is bidding, but we do know that someone has listed this as a potential site for housing development and the site is on the county council’s strategic housing list, and that’s what we are concerned about. We would be fine if a buyer came in and retained it for community use, but we don’t want it knocking down for housing.
“That is one of the reasons why we considering a Community Right to Bid and the meeting on Friday (tomorrow) is to hopefully approve an application and submit it to the county council.
“If it is approved by the county council, it is not certain what the outcome could be – it could be that we are given a moratorium or it might mean that the Community Right to Bid goes into the legal records and any purchaser would have to take that into account.
“At the moment, we aren’t in a position to buy it, but we would like some time to talk to other parties and try to get a funding package together.”
The Community Right to Bid application comes at a time when a village action plan is being considered. Numerous ideas have been suggested for the building, if it was retained for community use. Coun Hinchcliffe said: “In terms of the action plan, it is early days, but we know that there has been a keen interest for a pub – maybe a micropub – plus a family restaurant. We have also been talking to Alnwick Medical Group about moving from their existing site near The Beacon to the ex-SPAR site. There are other options too, for example, there’s no public toilets in Longhoughton.”
The parish-council meeting is taking place tomorrow at Longhoughton Community and Sports Centre, on Park Road. Questions from the public are welcome prior to the meeting from 9.30am for 15 minutes. Residents are being urged to come along and have their say. An agenda is available at tinyurl.com/y7y4wjza