IT HAS stood at the heart of the community since the 1930s.

But the Daily Echo can today reveal that The Bittern pub in Southampton could become a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant.

The Echo understands that the fast food giant is in discussions about buying the pub in Thornhill Park Road, after owners Punch Taverns put it on the market.

The news has been greeted with dismay by locals and if the controversial plans went ahead, it would become the latest in a long line of pubs to shut in recent years, with most being converted into convenience stores.

It is thought the building was originally built as a post office during the First World War, and was then converted to a pub during the 1930s.

It holds regular community and charity events with the next, in aid of the Hampshire Autistic Society, taking place on May 12.

Although recent rumours that supermarket chain Tesco was planning a bid proved wide of the mark, Punch Taverns is currently in discussions about its future.

Any change is unlikely to happen until at least July, when the lease deal with the current landlord runs out.

A Punch Taverns spokesman said: “It is always our preference that our pubs continue to trade as pubs.

“However, we do review our estate regularly and 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.

“Following such a review, a decision was made to put The Bittern on the market and we are currently speaking with interested parties.”

The spokesman added that the company was not in a position to provide further information at the moment.

A spokesman for McDonald’s said: “We are always looking for new sites and can confirm that Southampton is an area where we would like to invest, open a new restaurant and create jobs.

“We are looking at several potential opportunities in the area but currently have no confirmed plans.”

City councillor Royston Smith, whose Harefield ward contains the pub, said: “What is really sad about it is that it has a really good community feel, the people are really nice and genuine and it is fulfilling a community function.

“It’s somewhere for people to congregate and if you lose it and replace it with a restaurant chain it would be a desperately sad situation.”

Pub-goer Mark Merewerther, from Thornill, said of the plans: “I think it is disgusting. That would mean another pub on the main road to Bitterne closing, and there aren’t many left now.

“This pub holds a lot of events, and it would be missed.”