The future of a council-owned flat has been discussed behind closed doors by councillors – with the council claiming they were considering “sensitive financial issues”.

Dartmouth Town Council said: “Councillors would be discussing issues about the previous and/or additional tenants/leaseholders.”

In a statement to the Chronicle, the council added that no final decision had been reached, due to a procedural error, and it would be brought back to a future town council meeting and again discussed behind closed doors, “in committee”, due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

But rumours circulating in the town this week suggest it was basicially agreed to let the museum have part of the flat rent free – despite objections from some town councillors.

As previously reported, the council decided to evict the tenants last November and the council has suggested it might use part of the flat for storage and allow the museum to expand into other parts.

A Freedom of Information request by the Chronicle has revealed the four-bedroom flat was in good condition at the time the council decided it wanted to evict the tenants – despite claims that when they left it was in an “appalling state”.

Flat 6A, above the museum in Duke Street, Dartmouth, was rented to tenants from Townstal through South Hams District Council’s Direct Lets Scheme in July 2014, after the town council had spent almost £75,000 doing it up.

On November 15 last year, the town council’s corporate property commitee decided it wanted to take back possession of the flat and give the tenants three months notice to quit, from January 1.

Last month, in an email to the Chronicle, Cllr Richard Cooke, a member of the corporate property committee and mayor at the time the decision was taken, said: “…the meeting you attended did not report the reasons that really caused our decision.”

He added: “The state of the flat when vacated was appalling, with carpets soaked with cat’s urine and a radiator off the wall. The council’s in-house workers have spent a lot of time cleaning it out.”

Yet, on November 27 last year, just days after the committee had decided to take back the flat and evict the tenants, a district council inspection of the property revealed:

* Kitchen all ok – All white goods, tenants own.

* Living room/dining room – Radiator coming away from wall. Requested depot to fix this on 14.11.2017.

* Downstairs toilet and sink – Large crack in wall on sink side of wall. There is a physical gap in the crack. Needs further inspection.

* Hall/stairs/landing – Carpet scuffed in hallway. Tenant aware of the requirements to maintain or replace carpet to original standard if they were to leave.

* Bathroom – Some evidence of damp/mould on the ceiling in front of the bath. It would appear that the extractor fan is not sufficient enough for that area.

* Master bedroom – All ok.

* Second bedroom – All ok.

* Third bedroom (downstairs) – Presume ok, unable to access due tenant’s daughter being poorly.

* Fourth bedroom (downstairs) – All ok.

* Tenant advised that gas boiler is working ok.

* Property has single-glazed sash windows and therefore costs more to heat.

* Overall condition of property good.

Cllr Cooke added in his email: “We also had complaints from the neighbour about cat faeces all over their roof as a restaurant.”

This was confirmed by the town council – although cats were not mentioned in correspondence we have seen.

In November 2014, in an email to the district council, the then town clerk wrote: “I have received complaints from …. that …. is smoking out on the walkway near his front door and throwing his cigarette ends onto the flat roof of the bakery below, which is also their access.

“Not only is this littering their property but could lead to a fire risk. However, more worryingly the ….. appear to let their dog out at night and it is leaving mess on the flat roof…. This is not acceptable and I would be grateful if you would contact ….. and make sure this does not happen again.”

The town council said it had since received other verbal complaints. In an email between town council officials in February this year, it was stated: “….. called ….. to say that the problem he had with animal faeces on his flat roof last year is happening again. He is concerned that this is a health issue for his business. We believe it is the animals from flat 6A being allowed out there. I think that last year …. put netting around to try and keep them off but, as a new roof has just been fitted, the problem is happening again.”

The decision to do up the flat and let it out to a local family was taken in 2013 after it was discussed in open council – and followed a public row, with councillors divided over whether to let it out to the museum or for affordable housing at around £700 per month.

At the time, Cllr Francis Hawke said he had been told the flat would almost certainly go to a family in Dartmouth or from the surrounding area. He said: “That takes priority over anything else and would give us a greater income.”

Cllr Steve Smith added: “For the community it would be beneficial for the museum to have the flat but housing should be the priority for local people.”

But Cllr Rob Lyon, summing up the council’s dilemma at the time, said: ‘I think that the museum has a very valid case. They need more room adjacent to where they are. A lot of people in the town would benefit and the footfall from visitors would go up. We have to look carefully at both being proposed and I would find difficulty in choosing between either helping one family and helping thousands of people coming through our town.”

At another meeting to decide the future of the flat in 2013, Cllr Lyon suggested it was ‘not the sort of property that is suitable for a large family.

He said that if the council rented it to the museum it would not have to fund any refurbishment and added: “The option of the museum increasing its footfall would be something from which over the years this town would benefit from greatly.”

We reported then that the cost of doing up the flat was almost £49,000, plus an additional estimated £25,000 for a sprinkler system in the event of fire.

However, the town council was expecting a total of around £20,000 back from the district in the form of grants.

A Dartmouth estate agent, while admitting he had not viewed the flat, which also has a parking space, estimated it to be worth around £425,000.