PRESSURE is rising on Staffordshire County Council to clarify plans for Stafford's Shire Hall Gallery after a campaign to save it received a swell of support over the festive break.
Launched by residents and Maureen Compton, Staffordshire county councillor for Stafford Central, the campaign is a response to plans by the council to vacate the gallery and possibly even sell it.
A Facebook page started by the group, called Save Stafford Shire Hall received more than 1,000 likes in its first two days and was at nearly 1,500 in just over a week.
Councillor Compton said: "When the courts vacated the Shire Hall, it was decided to create a cultural quarter in Stafford with the library, gallery and theatre all together.
"The people of Stafford value and treasure the Shire Hall Gallery and library and cannot understand why the county council has proposed that the library be moved and the gallery be closed," she said.
"Our cultural heritage is precious and must be fought for."
Councillor Compton urged local people to get behind the efforts to save the gallery, saying the campaign would continue and intensify until the fate of the gallery was clear.
She said to show support for the campaign people should "like" the Facebook page and sign their names to an online petition before January 28 at Staffordshire County Council's website.
Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy said he would be writing to the county council himself to ask for clarification on the situation."
"Shire Hall should not be sold off, but if there is to be an empty property it could be rented or leased out on a short lease," Mr Lefroy said.
"It is extremely important that a public building in such a prominent position remains in public ownership in my view."
But the county council maintains action is urgently needed to preserve the building.
Ian Parry, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, resources and transformation, said the running costs of the hall alone were around £180,000 a year and the council no choice but to look at new ways of funding the hall.
He said: "The Shire Hall is a great building and that is why we have decided to look at new options for the building to help save it for the future and ensure it remains a proud landmark for the county town for years to come.
"While we understand people's concerns about any change of use, like all other listed buildings in the town any redevelopment would be very limited and strictly controlled to ensure it is of the highest quality and sympathetically reflects the heritage of the town.
"As a county council we would accept and agree to nothing less.
"Of course the reality is that buildings such as these are extremely costly to run and in these tough economic times we have to look at creative ways to protect those which are most important to us all, while still balancing a very limited budget to help those most in need.
"By acting now, I would like to think we can help make sure Shire Hall is there for the people of Stafford to enjoy for generations to come, rather than it being unused, which nobody would like to see."
The petition can be accessed here.