Councillors have agreed to look into a compulsory purchase of The White Hart pub at Bratton Fleming.

The decision was taken at North Devon Council’s executive committee on Monday, following a request by Bratton Fleming Community Benefit Society (CBS) Ltd for the council to buy the pub and bring it back into use for the village.

After a presentation by ward member Malcolm Prowse and debate, members agreed to support the community by asking officers to explore the matter further and report back to the council at a later date.

The CBS has welcomed the decision, thanking the council and Mr Prowse for their support, but said it was a small step on a long road.

However, councillors were clear a CPO would probably only ever happen if the burden of costs and any compensation required was not paid by the council.

The group has been at loggerheads with the pub’s owner Philip Milton and despite some discussion on buying it, feels Mr Milton’s valuation is twice what the premises is worth.

Mr Milton bought the pub in 2014 and is currently appealing after his planning application to build three cottages to the rear of the pub on the beer garden and function room area, was refused.

He has said his plans would enable the pub to reopen, together with refurbishment to create a tea room, shop and post office.

A CBS statement said: “Contrary to Mr Milton’s assertions, and as confirmed by the council, a compulsory purchase order would not see council tax or rate payers’ money being used to purchase and run a pub.

“The community would fund the purchase and take full ownership and responsibility for the property. The CPO is simply a mechanism to make this happen, where all other efforts have failed.

“There is extremely strong support for this from within our community and from visitors to it, and we were pleased that the community’s proven ability to develop and sustain community facilities has been recognised.

“The White Hart did not close due to lack of support and has clear potential to be a successful hub at the heart of our community.”

After the meeting Mr Milton posted a statement, which said the community group had failed over six years to raise or even pledge enough money to ‘save’ the pub.

He said: “Today’s decision simply authorises council funds to be engaged in doing more research on the legalities of a possible process and certainly does not commit the council to agreeing to use its funds to buy any pub in North Devon.

“Our actual submitted plan, which is on the table, is to provide the funding for the full refurbishment and updating of the community pub/hub without any strings and to create a sustainable and viable future for it and whether that is run independently or by ‘the community’ is entirely up to it. However, this is the only real and fully funded way to ‘save our pub’ in Bratton Fleming.”

The White Hart was listed as an ‘asset of community value’ in 2014 – which gives the community a ‘right to bid’ if it goes up for sale – but that runs out this year.