A family have been forced to leave their “beautiful” council-owned flat deemed “unsuitable for social housing” – and councillors would rather rent part of it to a museum and use the rest as storage.

The Dartmouth Town Council-owned property, above the town’s musuem in the Butterwalk, was let through South Hams District Council in 2014 to a large family then living in Townstal, in what the town council says was an “experiment”.

The “experiment”, which cost council tax payers thousands of pounds in renovation costs after previous tenants had left, came to an end late last year when the agreement between the town and district council ended.

At November’s town council corporate property committee meeting, behind closed doors it was decided to take back ownership of the flat, 6A Duke Street, and give the tenants three months notice to quit from January 1.

The proposal, backed by the committee, was put forward by its chairman, Cllr Robin Springett, and seconded by the then mayor, Cllr Richard Cooke.

At the March meeting of the committee, Cllr Springett reported that, as agreed, the town council had given notice and “we are currently waiting for a report from South Hams as to the state of the property”.

Cllr Springett also asked if any councillors had thought of what to do with flat 6A, considering it had not been profitable. He suggested the council should offer the property to the museum.

Cllr Springett added: “This wouldn’t necessarily bring in more money but they would look after this property.”

Cllr Rob Lyon, who recently replaced Cllr Cooke as mayor, suggested the committee should leave making a decision until after the tenants had left.

At a meeting in April, Cllr Springett said the flat was “not suitable for social housing”.

Cllr Lyon agreed. He said the apartment was “beautiful, it had a lovely bathroom and kitchen, it was on two levels with four bedrooms, but it’s not suitable for social housing”.

Cllr Cooke said the town council was told it would be for “local people” and instead the district council “put in people from outside of Dartmouth” – despite the fact the tenants had been living in Townstal prior to renting the flat, having previously lived in Salcombe, and been born and brought up in the Kingsbridge area.

Cllr Francis Hawke said he was a supporter of social housing but the council should be making money on the property.

The committee was told it was making the council less than £6,000 per year profit.

Cllr Brian Harriss suggested renting the flat to a local person on the open market.

At May’s committee meeting, councillors were told the family had left and the council could take two rooms for storage and rent the remainder of the property to the museum, if an agreement with the museum’s trustees could be reached. This move was agreed unanimously by the committee.

Prior to the property being rented to the family, the town council had rejected plans to rent it to the museum and spent thousands of pounds installing a new kitchen, bathroom and gas central heating, plus redecorating it throughout.

At the time, we reported that giving the flat to the district council to manage through its lettings scheme would save the town council £15,000 on the refurbishment bill. Councillors were told then the scheme would also reduce its repair bill and it would get around £700 per month in rent.

News that the family had been kicked out in favour of using the home for storage and a museum extension sparked outrage on social media.

One former tenant, Karl Stone, commenting on the Chronicle’s Facebook page, said: “Madness, I used to live in that flat about twenty years ago!

“Will the museum be able to sustain the same as a family of tenants in rental fees?”

But the town council defended its decision this week. A spokesman said: “Flat 6A is a large flat above Dartmouth Museum. The town council, in co-operation with South Hams District Council, experimented with letting the flat to a family, in need of housing, for over three years.

“One of the conditions was that the flat, at the top of a Grade-I listed building, with a food outlet adjacent, and other tenants, would be unsuitable for tenants with animals.

“SHDC found it impossible to comply with this condition, and very real complaints about animals fouling the area above food storage and the entrance to other properties followed.

“The town council has a duty to all its tenants, furthermore, using this large flat as housing had effectively cut it off from access by members of the public, and to understand a 17th century merchant’s house, it needs to be seen as a whole. The museum and all commercially let areas are open to the public.

“With the increase in staff numbers in the council office, finding storage space has become a priority.

“Taking all these points into consideration, our agreement with SHDC was terminated, and the tenant given notice.

“Flat 6A requires some renovation, and exactly where the responsibility lies is under discussion with SHDC.

“If the decision is taken to share the space in flat 6A with Dartmouth Museum, more of the Butterwalk building will be available to be visited by the public; the council has the storage space it urgently needs and the duty of care to our other tenants will be met.”

The council added: “The town council has no statutory duty to provide social housing, but we will continue to explore ways of providing for local families in concert with other organisations, if that is possible, whilst discharging our responsibilities to our staff, for the maintenance of historic public buildings and the needs of other tenants.”