HYNDBURN’S largest pub has closed and is being transformed into ‘executive apartments’.

The closure of the Oaklea Tavern, popular with Accrington Stanley supporters on matchdays, came as a shock to regulars when it shut this week.

Developers are to transform the site, which is more than 100 years old, into flats with refurbishment work already under way.

Though the pub is a popular reception venue and match day meeting place, owners said the huge property had crippling overheads.

Deputy council leader Clare Pritchard said: “It was a mystery to a lot of people as to why they have closed. It’s always been so popular and the food was well priced, it was a good asset to the area. They also spent a lot of money on the property.”

Borough councillor Tony Dobson said: “What we don’t want is a boarded up building standing next to the road on one of the main ways into Accrington. So if the plan is to convert it into flats, and is taking place soon, that is obviously much better for the area.”

Councillor Tim O’Kane spoke against the flats proposal at the original planning meeting. Though planning permission has been in place for some time it was not known whether the pub would ever close. He said: “It has been a community asset for decades. People need resources like these and it has been popular for weddings and funerals over the years. I think it is really sad because when these pubs go, they disappear never to be seen again.”

MGR Leisure which operated the lease said the pub was too large to be viable.

The firm’s Neil Rowe said: “It was initially a successful venture but trade is now about half what it was four years ago.

“The place is so large that the overheads were just too high. With the cost of utilities on the rise, it simply wasn’t viable as a pub any more.

“We feel the development is the best use possible for a building that would otherwise be boarded up.”

Permission to convert the large pub into six executive apartments had included demolition of the pub’s existing pool room at the back. Associated parking and a soft landscaping scheme were also part of the proposals.