COUNCILLORS have agreed to force the sale of a historic pub to save it from ruin after the owner allowed it to fall into disrepair.

A vote to carry out the compulsory purchase of the Unicorn in Great Rollright, near Chipping Norton, took place at a West Oxfordshire District Council cabinet meeting.

District councillor Toby Morris said: "This building has been allowed to fall into serious disrepair and become structurally unsound.

"It is the council's duty to protect this heritage. I believe we have no choice but to take action.

"It is regrettable that the owner has not been in touch."

The Unicorn has been vacant since 1989, during which time the owner has repeatedly sought permission to convert it into homes.

The Grade II listed building is structurally unsound and the renovation costs are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Phil Shaw, WODC development manager, said: "There’s a public footpath that runs through the site and the worry is that it is accessible to children and a child could be injured or killed.

"The building is missing a number of its floors and over time the weather has rotted the roof timbers.

"There’s hundreds of thousands of pounds of work to repair the structure of the building."

A report on the proposed compulsory purchase order said falling tiles and masonry as well as the potential collapse of the pub were a danger to the public.

The council served the owner with a demand for payment after it spent £35,854 on "urgent work" six months ago.

The report to the meeting on Wednesday said the owner failed to pay back this money and councillors could take legal action to recover the debt.

The owner has rejected numerous offers by local businessmen to purchase the pub, according to Mr Shaw.

Sue Glasson, Rollright Parish Council clerk, said: "The building is an eyesore to our high street and it’s gone on for too many years.

"I think the village would like to see a flourishing pub.

"It was once a very successful pub and I’d like to see it restored to its former glory.

"As the clerk I have been writing to the district council for years and I feel that at last there’s some progress."

Ms Glasson said the parish council supported the compulsory purchase of the pub.

The owner was not available for comment.