ALMOST 1,500 people have signed an online petition urging a town council to rethink plans to rip out an 18th century staircase from a historic building.

Concerned Abingdon residents have also called for reassurances from councillors that part of the town's Guildhall will not be sold off as part of a £1m refurbishment.

Abingdon Town Council submitted planning applications for the first phase of the project, including making historic rooms including the Mayor's Parlour wheelchair-friendly, earlier this year.

Historic England registered a strong objection to the proposal, which included demolishing an 18th century staircase to install a platform lift, stating it would cause 'substantial harm' to the building, but the application was approved by district council planning officers in June.

Now, as the town council gets ready to move forward with the plans, worried residents have expressed fears for the future of the building.

The Save our Guildhall petition states there is "significant public concern" about the future of the Abbey Hall, the 1960s extension to the Guildhall, which has been empty since 2015, and the potential that it could be sold off to developers as well as opposition to demolishing the historic staircase, which dates back to 1731.

Kevin Thomson, who leads guided walks around Abingdon, said: "It's a disgrace that the building, which was so well used by community groups, has sat empty for the past two years when no work is actually being done."

Previous plans to install a cafe and projector room in Abbey Hall failed in January after being deemed unaffordable and the council's most recently published plans do not involve Abbey Hall.

Former town councillor Iain Littlejohn, who created the online petition, said: "There has been a lack of communication from the town council and people aren't happy about destroying the staircase or continuing to leave the Abbey Hall empty. A town the size of Abingdon deserves a civic space and it isn't right to spend all the money on one part of the building to the detriment of the other."

Bryan Brown, chairman of Friends of Abingdon, described the ongoing vacancy of the Abbey Hall as a 'tragedy'.

He added: "The staircase is an important part of the town's heritage and the history of Abingdon is an incredibly important to residents. Once it is gone, it is lost forever."

A physical version of the petition, created by resident Judith Payne, has also received hundreds of signatures.

Town clerk Nigel Warner, in a report to members of the town council's Guildhall Committee last month, stated it was still the intention to press ahead with the controversial plans to remove the historic staircase following support from the Vale Disability Access Group.

A letter from chairman Michael Moon stated the plans had the group's 'whole hearted support' and added: "The proposal is very inclusive, ensuring that users do not feel excluded, isolated, inferior or vulnerable. Essentially we feel it ensures equal treatment."

Mr Moon said, while he appreciated the desire to keep the staircase it was 'very unsafe' and alternatives suggested by Historic England were not practical.

Town councillor Dennis Garrett, who is the chairman of the Guildhall Committee, said the authority would be publishing a formal response to the petition within the next few days.

The petition is available online at