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Villagers bid to safeguard former shop

The former SPAR shop in Longhoughton.
The former SPAR shop in Longhoughton.

Villagers have lodged an application in an attempt to safeguard a former shop for community use in the future.

Longhoughton Parish Council has submitted a Community Right to Bid (CRB) request to Northumberland County Council, in relation to the former SPAR store and post office, which closed in 2016.

The building – still home to a hairdressing salon – is owned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), but is set to go up for auction on Wednesday.

While the intentions of potential bidders are unknown, there is concern that a buyer might want to turn the site into housing.

Villagers are determined for this not to happen, with a clear desire for the site to be utilised for community use, with potential options including a pub or health centre.

With this in mind, and at a meeting last Friday, the parish council voted to submit a CRB application to the county council, which the authority now needs to decide upon.

This initiative gives community groups the chance to ensure that important buildings/facilities stay available for local use, by listing them as an asset of community value. If this happens, and when the owner wants to sell it, community groups have up to six months to prepare a bid to try to buy it on the open market.

Speaking at the meeting, parish council vice-chairman Coun Adrian Hinchcliffe said there was ‘overwhelming evidence that the ex-SPAR site is a community asset’ and set out possible future uses for it.

He said: “The site has been used by the community for more than 60 years for food retailing, a post office, a location to advertise advents and pick up newsletters, while the parish-council noticeboard is also at the site, which also houses the main village post box.

“It is centrally located, has parking facilities and there are no existing buildings in the village which can be utilised for retail/commercial purposes.

“We do not know who the bidders will be at the auction and what their intentions are, but there is a risk that it will be bought for a purpose to not continue it as a community asset. But if the CRB is approved, it will give the community time to find a way of securing the site for community use.”

The Co-op opened a store in Longhoughton in July 2015, moving into the former Burnside pub, before the SPAR and post office closed nine months later. Coun Hinchcliffe said: “Between 2012 and 2016, Longhoughton lost its pub, post office and SPAR, with post-office facilities replaced by a mobile van that visits the village for two hours each Friday. Longhoughton lacks facilities for visitors and residents.”

The need to enhance services in the area has been flagged up by residents in a parish-plan exercise and the consultation has raised some potential uses for the ex-SPAR site.

Coun Hinchcliffe said: “These include a pub/restaurant, post-office facilities, public-health centre to replace the existing, inadequate site in the village, the creation of other retail/service outlets, public toilets, heritage centre and the continuation of the hair salon. It may be possible to create a multi-occupancy centre.”

Coun Robert Wildsmith called for action to be taken as soon as possible on progressing a way forward, saying ‘we have a moral and legal obligation to move quickly on this.’

Coun Hinchcliffe said that a strategy – including a proposal to have a steering group comprising parish councillors and residents – will be presented at Monday’s parish-council meeting.

A DOI spokesman said that if the CRB is approved before next Wednesday, then the site would be pulled from the auction and a moratorium would begin. If the building is listed after being sold at auction, the buyer would need to consider this as part of any future plans.