A historic steam ship could be moored at the Bank End of Bideford Quay by next spring.

As revealed in last week's Gazette, the SS Freshspring Society has been working on the project for three years, and is now working with charity Wings South West to refurbish the 120ft ex-Royal Navy Auxiliary water tanker and bring her to Bideford.

And plans for the 1940s' cruise vessel moved a step closer this week at a meeting at the Royal Hotel, attended by the charity's patron, Earl Attlee.

He said: "Everyone is aware of the need to encourage youngsters to take up a decent career.

"I think it's a great project. If I was here on holiday and knew that the Freshspring was on the quay, there's nothing my wife could do to stop me wanting to come and look around."

The ship is believed to be the last of its kind, with around £3.5million in Heritage Lottery funding required for the restoration work and to set up educational facilities for young people.

Society chairman John Puddy said that several organisations, including Torridge District Council (TDC), had backed the project, and hoped much of the restoration work could be done by Appledore Shipbuilders.

Mr Puddy said: "We were also considering Bristol but chose Bideford because we have the opportunity after the Kathleen and May to have a heritage vessel, which will be of great benefit in terms of tourism and the community."

Councillor Andrew Eastman called it a 'fantastic project', and said TDC had agreed in principle to allow the Freshspring to moor near the 'Ionia' tug boat at Bank End.