A HISTORIC former council office could be demolished to build social housing.

Vale of White Horse District Council has announced it intends to create the first council-built homes in decades in Abingdon at the Old Abbey House.

However, the authority has not yet been decided whether this will mean converting the 18th century council office into flats or knocking it down to build new properties.

The scheme will use financial contributions from other housing developments including the nearby Old Gaol, which developer Cranbourne turned into luxury flats and three restaurant units in 2015.

The authority hopes the proposal for affordable homes on the site will help provide 'much-needed' homes for local residents on the council's housing register.

Matthew Barber, leader of the district council, said: "Using money from commercial developers this is the perfect opportunity to make use of a vacant office building in the heart of the community and provide much needed affordable homes for local people."

"The Vale has a strong record of delivering affordable housing and this will be the first time for many years the council has taken the step of developing a scheme of it's own."

However, many in the town wanted to see the space maintained as a community space, with an arts centre one of many ideas proposed when the offices were first vacated in 2014.

The following year the Friends of Abingdon managed to get the building registered as an asset of community value under the 2011 Localism Act, meaning anyone who wishes to sell it must give interest groups the first chance to come forward as bidders.

But Old Abbey House went on the open market in June 2015 after no groups came forward to take on the 200-year-old building, which was once connected with Abingdon’s medieval abbey and was home to several important merchants, although it is believed the current structure dates from the 1780s.

Bryan Brown, chairman of Friends of Abingdon, said: "There are too many variables at the moment to know what our view is.

"We haven't had it confirmed whether they will knock down the building, which isn't listed despite being historically significant, or convert it and many of the councillors we have tried speaking to have no more information than us.

"One thing that is important to maintain no matter what happens is the building's garden, as it is an important asset."

The news follows the announcement by the Prime Minister at last week's Conservative Party conference that the Government would see an extra 12,500 homes built for social rent each year in 2020 and 2021, with local authorities able to bid for a share of an extra £2 billion for affordable housing.

It came in response to figures that show almost 1.2 million people are on council housing waiting lists across the UK.