Pub's owners issue challenge to locals

THE owners of an award winning rural pub have thrown down the gauntlet to villagers to use it when it reopens or risk seeing it transformed into a hostel.

By Sharon Asplin

THE owners of an award winning rural pub have thrown down the gauntlet to villagers to use it when it reopens or risk seeing it transformed into a hostel.

The hard-hitting message from chain inn2gether comes after a local outcry about its decision to shut Ye Olde Cherry Tree, in Little Oakley, last month because it was not making enough money to keep it open.

Harwich MP Ivan Henderson has been inundated with letters from concerned regulars anxious about losing the pub, which has won awards from Colchester and North Essex Campaign for Real Ale.

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He and others have written to Cheshire-based inn2gether to clarify the situation and urge it to reconsider.

The company has already pointed out to local residents it has taken a "commercial decision" to close the pub, arguing if all the people complaining had visited it and bought only one pint each it would still be open today.

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Now operations manager Mike McDougall has pledged the pub will reopen shortly owing to "popular demand" but has made the company's future position clear in a strong letter he intends to send to everyone who has contacted him about the issue.

He said: "Should the [customers] fail to visit the Cherry Tree as least two to three times per week in order to sustain the viability of reopening the business, then we will have to close the pub once more and look for alternative, profitable uses even if that means a 'halfway house' which … is much needed for those less fortunate than ourselves who cannot afford to visit a pub, never mind complain about one when it closes.

"We are first and foremost a commercial business and, as such, we must ensure that whilst operating the pub and providing a community service, the business itself remains profitable, and that can only be done if people like you, who have complained vigorously, visit the site just as vigorously."

Little Oakley Parish Council has already decided to write to inn2gether to persuade it to reopen the pub.

Last night its chairman Val Wrycraft said could not discuss Mr McDougall's comments until she had talked to council colleagues.

She said a meeting would be called, if necessary, to decided what further action to take.

Mr Henderson also did not wish to discuss the latest comments but stressed again the people of Little Oakley did not believe assurances they had been given and failed to understand how an award winning and thriving pub could suddenly fail.

He told the EADT he would be writing to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ask if the company had purchased and subsequently closed any other rural pubs.

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