Huntingdonshire District Council has ordered the owner of a derelict St Neots pub to repair its appearance.

As reported in The Hunts Post last week, The Old Falcon Hotel, in Market Square, is being marketed by Barford+Co as a rental opportunity. It could be turned into a restaurant, shops, café or offices, with ground floor units from 1,000 sq ft to 5,000 sq ft and an additional bar or restaurant opportunity overlooking the river on offer.

After what it describes as a "long-running concern" about the deteriorating condition of the building, HDC has served a formal legal notice on Dennis Whitfield, founder of the Whitfield Group. He will now have until May 17 next year to complete the work, which includes repairing windows and redecorating the exterior of the building facing Market Square and River Terrace.

A spokesman for HDC said: "The notice requires the owners to improve the appearance of this important and prominent historic building.

The council wants to work constructively with the owners to find a suitable way forward. Unfortunately, no clear and convincing plans have yet been presented that would secure a proper and sensitive reuse of the buildings. Any scheme needs to respect the architectural quality of the building and its setting from the riverside.

"The owners have been encouraged to take appropriate professional advice on the property's heritage and on flood risk because of its proximity to the river. When that is available, the council will very much welcome further discussions.

"The timescale for the redecoration works set out in the notice would enable them to be carried out as part of a complete refurbishment of the property."

Councillor Doug Dew, executive member for strategic planning and housing, said: "This is one of the oldest buildings in St Neots and its current appearance detracts from the building itself and the wider Market Square. The council has been patient with the owner whilst he formulates his proposals, but after eight years we have now had to take formal action to ensure he takes better care of the building and improves the appearance of the town centre.

"The council still hopes to work with the owner to ensure that the building will once again become a vibrant part of the Market Square, if the right proposals are made. Meanwhile, our message is that the council will not tolerate important buildings being left to deteriorate."

Mr Whitfield said: "I have been longing for the last 10 years to tidy up the place, make it really nice and use it properly and I have been thwarted all the way along by HDC.

"If they could only agree to some reasonable proposals of what we could do with the building then I would have been very happy to have not left it in the state it is."