A LEADING pub campaigner claims people need to "wake up" to the community damage caused by the loss of pubs as plans to turn a former Marlow pub into a house receive a mixed reaction.

A planning application has been submitted to convert the old Hare and Hounds on Henley Road, which changed hands several times in the past few years before being sold by Enterprise Inns last year.

Last month, Wycombe District Council experts said the loss of the pub building would not have a negative impact on the community because it is not currently operating as a public house.

But Alexander Wright, chairman of the district’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) group, disagrees with council’s stance and insists the permanent loss of the business would still be felt.

He said: "It is absolute rubbish. We have seen other businesses that have been shut for over a year and they have been reopened by the community or found another pub to take them over.

"These are now thriving community pubs, so just because it has been closed as a pub for a while it doesn’t mean it can’t be made a success as a pub.

"Pubs are valuable community assets, and there are a lot of grants and schemes available to help communities to buy them.

"People need to wake up and see what is happening, otherwise there will be hardly any pubs left in our towns and villages, only houses and supermarkets."

Mr Wright pointed to the Assets of Community Value register, introduced by the government to encourage groups to list buildings of importance to ensure first refusal for communities if it is sold.

However, with the pub already sold to a developer, the register does not apply to the Hare and Hounds.

The news has prompted a mixed reaction from residents, with several responses from neighbours to the WDC planning application.

The building is currently operating as the Continental Bakehouse, which opened last month, with customers rushing to the new bakery’s defence.

Sanya Peel, from Medmenham, said: "After being empty it is great to see it busy and thriving.

"I am also aware that this has been a public house/restaurant for many many years, I would be very upset to see another listed building being turned into a house."

However, some residents feel the loss of the pub would actually benefit the area rather thamn damage it.

Neighbour Andrew Ford, who lives on Henley Road, said: "There have been many attempts to operate the Hare & Hounds as a going concern over the last few years and all have failed.

"I fear the new bakery will go the same way in a few months' time. This application will therefore prevent a gradual and inevitable decline in the quality of the local neighbourhood."

English Heritage recently awarded the building Grade II listed status, and it is currently leased by the bakehouse from the site’s new owners.

Deidre Wells from Red Kite Development Consultancy, the agent for the project, told the MFP the bakery’s tenancy was an interim measure for her client Hamden Homes while the housing plan was put into action.

As well as the main pub building, the plans include building a detached four bedroom house and two semi detached properties at the Henley Road site.

Wycombe District Council is due to rule on the plans by next month.