Residents of Hail Weston have secured an “important victory” in their fight to save the last pub in the village.

Huntingdonshire District Council has issued a ruling that prevents the Royal Oak - a Grade II-listed 17th century building - from being turned into anything other than a pub, without planning permission being granted.

The Article 4 Direction under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 means that the owner, Andy Vidler, cannot change what the premises are used for without HDC giving the go-ahead, even for work which would not previously have required permission. The legislation is used to protect an amenity or the wellbeing of an area.

A spokesman for HDC said that "each case is decided on its own merit" but that no planning application has been lodged with the authority.

On December 18 last year, a six-month moratorium period in which the Royal Oak can only be sold to the Hail Weston Community Pub Society restarted. This was triggered as a year after the initial moratorium, the property had not been sold and the group asked to be treated as a potential bidder.

It follows the owner's rejection of their offer of up to £200,000 for the pub in November 2013. In December that year, it was offered for sale with a guide price of £325,000.

The Royal Oak has become one of only a handful of pubs in the country to be issued with an Article 4 Direction and signals a major step forward in the campaign.

And on Saturday, January 24, Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly, who has supported the group's efforts, joined the campaigners to toast the news at a makeshift pub night at the village hall.

He said: "I am pleased that with this ruling HDC has supported the community of Hail Weston in their aspirations for the Royal Oak pub. The achievement of this important victory is the result of a dedicated campaign by local residents and we are now a lot closer to securing the Royal Oak as a community asset for the people of Hail Weston."

Karl Frestle, chairman of the HWCPS, added: "Article 4 has effectively ended the risk of anyone trying to convert this historic village pub into something else, and it's put the community in a much better position to buy it. While this doesn't force the owner to sell or reopen the pub, it gives them very good reason to.

"We're really pleased Jonathan Djanogly was able to join us to celebrate. He's been hugely supportive throughout, and wrote to the council on the village's behalf last year backing the Article 4 Direction."

The HWCPS - which boasts a membership of more than 160 people - was set up in 2012 after the closure of the pub in January that year. It was sold to Andy Vidler in November 2011 by the Charles Wells pub company, but he was forced to put it on the market after suffering a stroke.

The community is bidding to buy it and reopen it as a community-owned co-operative. During the campaign, people have been able to buy shares in the pub and join in with events to boost its funds.

INFORMATION: For more, go to www.savetheroyaloak.org.uk.