VILLAGERS battling to save their only pub from being turned into housing have potentially scuppered a developer's plans after they won a court battle.

The Crown pub in South Moreton, near Didcot, was a popular local hosting quiz nights and barbecues until it closed in 2015.

The building was then sold to developer Worthmore Properties Ltd for £340,000, which now wants to build three houses on the site, which it believes it can then sell for £1.5million.

Villagers, supported by the parish and South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), successfully managed to get the building listed as an 'asset of community value' and are hoping that they can reopen it as a pub.

An appeal by Worthmore against the protection has now been thrown out by tribunal judge Christopher Hitchens, who said that he did not believe the developer's arguments that the pub was financially unviable.

The listing means that if Worthmore decides to sell the property, the community will have six months to raise the cash needed to buy it.

One of the campaigners, 48-year-old parish councillor Tristram Kendall, believes that it will also make it more difficult for the developers to get planning permission.

Mr Kendall said: "It's the best result we could have hoped for.

"The judge was 100 per cent with us.

"But it is a partial victory. Our worry now is that they [the developers] will just sit on it for five years and take the losses with a view to making their millions in the end.

"They have already stripped it of all its assets so it's unusable at the moment."

Campaigners say there was a viable landlord who wanted to take on the pub when it first went on sale but brewers Wadworths, the then owners, choose to sell it to the property developers for the same price instead.

In email evidence submitted to the appeal hearing the last licensee indicated that during the months he and his wife ran the pub, turnover increased from £145,000 a year to £234,000 a year.

Villagers have sorely missed The Crown in the two years it's been shut, according to Mr Kendall.

The tour company owner said: "It was a central hub of the community.

"I only moved to the village five years ago but I know everyone because of the pub.

"Now there is nowhere for us to meet – we just don't see each other as much anymore.

"Or we have to go to another pub in a nearby village and spend our money outside the local community.

"With all the new houses coming to the area, it's ever more important that people have access to good rural pubs."

Andy Roberts, a spokesman for South Oxfordshire District Council said: “We welcome the tribunal’s decision that the Crown should remain an asset of community value.

"We know there is strong local interest in the village to keep the Crown open as a pub, and there is good evidence it could be run as a successful business and provide an important social hub for a small rural community.”

Worthmore Properties Ltd could not be reached for comment.