Councillors have decided that a publicly owned flat previously used for social housing will be offered to Dartmouth Museum.

Dartmouth Town Council voted unanimously to negotiate with the museum to offer it the use of flat 6A Duke Street. An amendment was added at the full council meeting on July 17 that the flat would predominately be open to the public for display and would be used for minimal storage.

Discussions about the future of the flat were held in a closed session of the council, with the press and public excluded.

The Chronicle had objected to the meeting being held behind closed doors, claiming the council had insufficient grounds in law for the discussions to be held in private.

The council disagreed, claiming councillors would be discussing issues about the previous and/or additional tenants/leaseholders or financial matters.

Councillors had previously discussed the flat in private during its July 2 meeting. Then it was decided the flat would be renovated and continue to be let for housing – but on the open market.

Six councillors were in favour, five were against.

However, at the July 17 meeting, Cllr David Gent said there had been a “procedural error” – as yet unexplained to the Chron­icle – at the earlier meeting and councillors would need to reconsider the decision and hold another vote.

Councillors then voted in favour of the previous decision being declared “invalid” and the flat was discussed again.

Cllr Brian Harriss said he had changed his mind from the previous meeting, after visiting the flat. Previously, he had been in favour of offering it on the open market.

He said he had no objection to letting the four-bedroom flat, with its views over Royal Avenue Gardens and the Boatfloat, to the museum, if the council could make the same amount of money from it as suggested by an estate agent who had visited the property – £675 per month.

Cllr Francis Hawke said he had not visited the flat for five years, but the week before the meeting he had and it was in an “appalling condition”.

He said the flat had not been left in a good state and the floor in the lounge was uneven and unsteady. He added: “This flat will need a considerable amount of money to do it up in order for a family to move in.”

(The council had already spent £75,000 of taxpayers’ cash doing it up in 2013 and 2014, ahead of letting it to the tenants who were recently evicted.)

Cllr Hawke agreed with Cllr Harriss and said he had changed his mind since the previous meeting and would support a proposal to let it to the museum.

Cllr Richard Cooke, a museum trustee, proposed that the flat be offered to the museum. This was seconded by Cllr David Kelland.

The minutes of the previous full council meeting say there was a “lengthy discussion” about the flat, with some arguments in favour of letting it the musuem and some backing the idea of offering it on the open market for housing. The minutes add: “Several councillors thought that due to the impending transfer of assets, the council had a duty to utilise any properties it owned and rent it on the open market.”

At that meeting, Cllr Hawke proposed renovating the flat and letting it as a home to the highest bidder. This was seconded by Cllr Gent.

Councillors present at the meeting on July 2, when it was agreed to let the flat for housing were: Rob Lyon, mayor; Fred Pritchard-Tagg, deputy mayor; Maggie Baillie; Richard Cooke; Tony Fyson; Tessa de Galleani; David Gent; Brian Harriss; Francis Hawke; David Kelland; Iris Pritchard; and Steve Smith.

Those present at the meeting on July 17, when it was agreed to let the flat to the museum, were: Cllrs Lyon; Pritchard-Tagg; Cooke; Fyson; de Galleani; Gent; Gina Coles; Harriss; Hawke; Kelland; and Robin Springett.

The town council issued a statement about the flat this week saying it was one of many properties owned and managed by the council and the tenancy had historically been managed by the district council, under a sole agency agreement contract.

Under the terms of the contract, the town council gave the district council three months’ notice to hand the property back, said the town council.

The statement added: “At no point did Dartmouth Town Council act in any way against the terms of the agreement by giving three months’ notice on January 1 and due diligence and protocol was followed at all times. The conservation of the property, due to its age, was considered at all times.

“The flat is now being reviewed for any repairs and its future use, in order to continue the ongoing revenue the council receives from its corporate property within the town.”

The council said a local letting agent estimated that, with a spend of £6,000 to £10,000 on new carpets, renovations in the bathroom, new appliances in the kitchen – despite the council not previously supplying kitchen equipment for the tenants – and decoration, the flat would command around £675 per month on the local rental market.

Any agent’s fee would need to be deducted from this and to obtain a higher rent the flat would need to be renovated to a much higher standard and offered with a parking space.

The family who were evicted are believed to living in the Kingsbridge area.