VOICES are rising in protest over a plan to install a lift in the Market House, for disabled access.

The plan has been challenged by a former town major and also at the recent annual town meeting.

The controversial idea comes from the Ledbury Places group, headed by the Civic Society, although the building is town council owned.

Former town mayor, Dr Kay Swinburne, now MEP for Wales, wrote to town clerk Karen Mitchell earlier this month and said she was "appalled" that the lift proposal had re-surfaced, a decade since the idea was rejected, after public protest.

Dr Swinburne asked for figures to show how many times the Market House had been changed as a venue for town council meetings, over disabled access issues, and she said: "Given the destructive nature of the work on an iconic heritage building, it would seem fair to take this data into account, before any plans are drawn up."

Dr Swinburne believes the Market House as an ancient building could be exempt from disabled access laws, but the alteration of its fabric, by installing a lift, could leave the town council open to a legal challenge, because it is listed.

Coun Tony Bradford, who posted Dr Swinburne's letter on the Voice of Ledbury site, welcomed her intervention and said he knew that a number of Ledbury residents were going to write and thank her.

He said: "I think Dr Swinburne has put the case eloquently. I share her sentiments."

He said he had already seen plans, and a lift could take up around one quarter of available space under the Market House, causing some market traders to be displaced.

The plans were set to be debated this week at a meeting of the full Ledbury Town Council, on Thursday, May 1,at 7.30pm.

The Ledbury Places scheme survived perhaps its strongest challenge to date at the annual town meeting, last week, with a show of hands that could have brought the entire project into question.

If the vote had been successful, a parish poll could have halved the number of buildings being looked at by the project, and the Market House could have been taken out of the equation.

The proposed lift was a particular bone of contention at the meeting, which was attended by around 50 people.

Former mayor, Noel Roberts said "I am flabbergasted we are discussing putting a lift into a seventeenth century building. How is that going to protect its historic fabric?"

Alex Clive, chairman of Ledbury Places, said: "I don't think that it would affect the fabric of the building".

He said the aim of the scheme was "to keep the buildings in use, and in good condition".

Ledbury Places, a Government-backed pilot scheme headed by the Civic Society, has organised a £400,000 grant-funded feasibility study into future viable uses of six key town centre buildings, including the Market House, the Heritage Centre, the Butcher Row Museum, the Town Council Offices, the Burgage Hall and the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Institute.

Parishioner Colin Marschall said the Market House and the town council offices were owned by the community, and he called for a parish poll to decide whether or not these buildings should be included in the Ledbury Places project at all.

Former town mayor, Coun Jayne Roberts said the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Institute had been "left in trust for the benefit of the people of Ledbury", and this should also be included in the poll.

Coun Terry Widdows said a parish poll could cost taxpayers as much as £7000, but a show of hands was held to decide whether one should be held.

The vote required support from ten parishioners or more, but only five hands were actually raised.

Ledbury Places will organise public consultation, and any further developments would require further grant support.

Speaking after the meeting Coun Widdows said: "Obviously there are concerns which were rightly raised over Ledbury places and the Ledbury Places group needs to make sure that the consultation gets to everyone so that residents can have their say. "

Lift or no lift, the Market House looks set to remain town council property, despite talk of asset transfers.

Coun Widdows said: "The town council is still keen to retain all of the ownership of the buildings that are already in our ownership, - council offices and Market House -so that we can continue to look out for them as we have done for many years now."