VILLAGERS in Downton have lost their fight to save a historic listed pub, which will now be turned into housing.

Carolyn Sutcliffe applied for permission to turn The Kings Arms in High Street into two three-bedroom houses, with extensions and two garages.

The pub has been closed for just over a year and reports carried out by the applicant and Wiltshire Council concluded a pub business is no longer viable.

The reports also concluded the site is not suitable for any other community use because of its configuration and location.

The 17th century pub was owned by Enterprise Inns who put the freehold up for sale for about £400,000 when they couldn’t find a new tenant for the pub, which has had ten landlords in the last ten years.

But Nick Sayer, who was landlord of the pub from 2002 to 2006, said: “In regard to the viability of the Kings Arms, there is no question that with a realistic rent the pub can be profitable.”

He added: “Who does the change of use benefit? Certainly not the majority of the residents of Downton.”

And Paul Charity, representing a group of people in the village who object to the change of use, said: “The King’s Arms, as a freehouse, has obvious potential to be a viable business. There was local interest in developing a business plan but neither the authorities nor Enterprise Inns have given that initiative a chance.

“If this application is upheld, the village loses a valuable asset forever. If, however, you look at all the facts objectively the applicant owns a viable business that will benefit future generations of villagers and visitors alike.”

The application prompted more than 60 letters of objection. Councillors on Wiltshire Council’s southern area planning committee were split on their views about the application at a meeting held at the Guildhall on Thursday evening.

Cllr Richard Clewer said: “I can’t see how it’s not viable; other pubs in the village seem to be thriving. I just don’t think we’ve got enough clear evidence to say that this isn’t a viable pub.”

But Cllr Chris Devine said: “You can’t force people to go and drink in a pub. Time and time again we have had this situation here and the reality is people are not going to pubs.”

Change of use was granted after five committee members voted for the plan, and four against it.