ALMOST two hundred concerned residents turned up for a public meeting about the 'urgent need' to reopen Abingdon's Abbey Hall on Monday.

There were so many eager to have their say on the future of the building that they could not all fit inside the Roysse Room of the Guildhall, leding to around 60 people being turned away.

It comes after years of uncertainty around the future of the building, which is the 1960s extension to the historic Guildhall, and has lain empty since 2015.

Previous plans to install a cafe and projector room failed 12 months ago after being deemed unaffordable, and the council's most recently published plans for the site do not involve Abbey Hall

Increasingly concerned residents created the Save our Guildhall petition in September, which now has more than 1,700 signatures, with campaigners objecting to the removal of a staircase, which dates back to 1731, from the older part of the building as well as raising concerns about the Abbey Hall.

Plans for a £1m refurbishment of the adjoining Guildhall were approved in June and work began last week.

But following strong public opposition, the town council revealed in October further plans to take out the 18th century staircase so a platform lift could be installed to allow access to the upper floor, would not move forward until the authority has obtained an independent report.

Iain Littlejohn, who organised the online version of the petition and was one of those 'locked out' of Monday night's meeting, said: "The general feeling was a combination of anger that the council were unable to move the meeting to the neighbouring Abbey Hall which is standing empty and unused, and pride that so many of the public had turned out on a rainy Monday evening to show how strongly people feel about the future of this precious facility."

An agenda for the meeting, published on the Abingdon Town Council website, stated 11 local residents had requested the special parish gathering, which was not a formal council meeting but was attended by councillors and chaired by Abingdon mayor Jan Morter.

The first discussion item stated: "The urgent need for the Abbey Hall to be refurbished and reopened in the near future in order to provide, once again, a much-needed community facility for the people of Abingdon."

The second: "The need to both improve inclusive access to all parts of the Guildhall complex and, equally importantly, to preserve and protect the historic fabric of the building, which is one of Abingdon's civic treasures."

Hester Hand, who attended the meeting, said there was a consensus that the Abbey Hall needed to be reopened but opinion was more divided on the disabled access.

She added: "I think there was also a feeling there has been a lot of secrecy about it all from the council. They say they have exciting plans but they have not given any indication what they are of when they will happen."

A second meeting for those unable to get inside is planned for the same venue at 7pm on Monday.