VILLAGERS hit by the closure of their local pub have unveiled plans to buy the building and run it themselves.

The Forest Heath Hotel in Station Road, Sway, has been empty and boarded up since it was shut by Admiral Taverns more than a year ago.

A developer has recently submitted an application to turn it into a block of flats.

But residents have hatched a plan to buy the Grade II listed building and turn it into a community pub, with investors owning a share in the business.

More details will emerge at a public meeting being held in the village tonight.

Residents will hear from members of the newly formed Friends of the Forest Heath Hotel, an action group formed in a bid to save the popular watering hole.

Chairman Ted Watts said it would be a tragedy for Sway if planners allowed the pub to be used for housing.

He added: "The would-be developers claim that the business was not viable. But when the Heath closed the world was staring into the abyss of a recession that all the pundits said would be the worst since the 1930s. Despite this the pub was not making a loss.

"We believe the former owners did not try hard enough to sell the Heath as a going concern."

Sway resident Mark Parker has devised a business plan which, according to the group, shows that the Heath could be operated successfully as a community pub.

Under the plan villagers would put up the capital to buy and repair the Heath and recruit a manager.

Mr Watts added: "As a community pub the Heath would offer true community activities. The management team would consult the community on which activities to host."

However, campaigners must persuade the building's new owners, David and Denise Stevenson, to sell the property.

The couple have asked the National Park Authority for planning permission to convert the three-storey complex into six flats and a shop.

Mrs Stevenson has been reported as saying that the pub was unsuccessful, largely as a result of drink-driving laws, the smoking ban and shops selling cheap alcohol.

"Realistically the only way to bring life back into the building is to restore it with flats and a commercial aspect," she said.

(BLOB) The public meeting will be held in the village hall in Middle Road, Sway, at 7.30pm.