Work is taking place behind the scenes to bring the Old Falcon Hotel in St Neots back into use, the Hunts Post can reveal.

Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) has confirmed it is in talks with the owner, but has warned it will take legal action to protect the old building, if necessary.

The former hotel, situated on the Market Square, has been the subject of various planning applications for a combination of flats, shops, restaurants, cafes and commercial outlets, over the last 15 years, but remains derelict.

Dennis Whitfield, of Whitfield Associates, bought the hotel, parts of which are Grade-II listed and backs onto the River Great Ouse, in 2004 and wants to develop the site, but claims to have been "frustrated by the planning system".

St Neots Town Council discussed the issue at a meeting on April 2 and councillors voted to push forward with plans for a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO).

They were informed by town clerk Ed Reilly that a CPO would incur legal costs and could take several years to complete.

Mr Reilly told members if it went ahead, the district council would act as the "acquiring party" and put together a full business plan.

Councillors backed the move and agreed to "look for partners" to progress the CPO.

HDC, however, has said it sees the move as a "last resort".

Councillor Ryan Fuller, executive councillor for housing, planning and economic development at HDC, said: "I have already secured a motion passed by HDC that the council will work towards a solution for the Old Falcon Hotel site.

"A CPO is a measure of last resort and is a costly and complex process, where there are no guaranteed outcomes. Our work is seeking to find the best way to bring the building back into active use and this includes the exploration of a CPO option if the use of the building cannot be resolved voluntarily with the site owner or the open market."

He continued: "Officers at HDC are in proactive conversations with the owner and his representatives to secure a voluntary way forward. Sketch proposals are already under discussion.

"The council has already taken formal action through the courts to protect the appearance of the building and will not hesitate to take action again, if needed."