A question mark hangs over the future of one of Oxford's best-loved pubs.

Oxford City Council has decided to sell the Radcliffe Arms, in Cranham Street, Jericho, and use the money to pay for improvements to its housing stock.

But few knew the Town Hall even owned the popular freehouse - including councillors.

The authority said a decision to sell the pub was taken at a behind-closed-doors meeting, but no sale had yet gone through.

The Oxford Mail was told the council was hoping to sell the pub to a brewery, but exactly what would happen to the venue after that remained unclear.

The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) said it was vital for the pubs like the Radcliffe Arms to remain at the heart of communities.

Jericho and Osney city councillor Colin Cook said: "Provided it stays a pub, I don't have any problem.

"The Radcliffe Arms is a well-loved pub and I hope that continues.

"I was a little bit surprised when I heard it was owned by the city council.

"We are one of the few councils that doesn't have a bar on site - but we didn't get reduced prices at the Radcliffe Arms.

"The food was always excellent and good value."

The Radcliffe Arms was named after the nearby Radcliffe Infirmary, which was built in about 1770.

And the pub is one of the largest surviving public houses in Jericho, which once boasted 24 licensed victuallers - of which only six remain.

Camra spokesman Owen Morris said: "Pubs such at the Radcliffe Arms are at the heart of communities.

"Closing it down would be a real blow and the loss of a valuable amenity.

"At a time when as many as 56 pubs a month are being lost, it's more important than ever to preserve the local in the community it serves."

The city council has a maintenance and repair backlog of about £9m - and selling the family silver is one way of paying for it.

Last year, the Mail first revealed the extent of the bill to repair crumbling cemeteries, community centres and park buildings - but also that the council was spending only about £500,000 a year on maintenance.

However, the money from the Radcliffe Arms sale will be used to pay for improvements to the social housing stock to ensure the council meets the Government's decent homes standard.

All its 8,000-odd properties in Oxford must adhere to this national benchmark by 2010.

City council spokesman Christopher Lee said: "The council's executive board has only recently approved the decision to put the Radcliffe Arms up for sale.

"No deal to sell the property has yet gone through."

Fellow Jericho and Osney city councillor Susanna Pressel added: "I'm sad to know the Radcliffe Arms is changing ownership."