Minister backs community's bid to buy Devon pub
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has pledged his support for a campaign to save an historic pub from closure.
Residents of Sidbury in East Devon are pulling together in an effort to prevent the closure of the Red Lion Inn – dating back to the 18th century.
The Grade II-listed building was put up for sale in May by debt-laden owner Punch Taverns before members of the community rallied together in an effort to save the facility.
The Cabinet Minister has written a letter to East Devon MP Hugo Swire in support of the Save the Red Lion campaign.
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Mr Pickles said: "I commend the efforts that you and your constituents are making to keep the Red Lion pub open for the community. My department is keen to support communities who want to save their local pubs."
Punch Taverns placed the 300-year-old pub on the open market in May, saying it was unviable for it to continue trading.
In August, it was revealed the company, which owns 4,100 pubs run by semi-independent publicans, had net debt of £2.3 billion.
The campaign group has written to chief operating officer Neil Griffiths, urging him to facilitate "meaningful discussions" about the possibility of purchasing the pub.
Fred Burnett, chairman of the campaign, said: "We are grateful to the Secretary of State for his support and encouragement which builds upon that which we are receiving from local MP Hugo Swire. We now wait to see if we will receive a positive response from Mr Griffith."
The company said in May that it "may explore other options around the future of our less sustainable sites or where they might better fulfil their potential for the local community under different ownership".
A public meeting was held in the village on September 24 when people were told about the opportunity to purchase shares in the building.
It followed a meeting in May when around 50 residents expressed concerns about the impact of the closure.
A spokesman for the Save the Red Lion campaign said: "It will not be cheap to buy the pub and invest in upgrading it. Very clearly we will need to raise several hundreds of thousands of pounds of capital to invest in the pub.
"We are seeking expressions of interest from those who support the objective of the wider community owning the pub, in potentially purchasing shares in the business."
East Devon District Council was recently able to 'stop the clock' on the sale by listing the pub as an Asset of Community Value under the Localism Act.
The listing means no other individual, group or business can buy the pub before March 10, 2014.
Campaigners plan to submit a capital grant application for government funding from the Social Investment Board of up to £100,000.