WORK will begin within weeks on a £1m transformation of Abingdon's Guildhall, but there is a stay of execution on plans to rip out a historic staircase.

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

The plans were approved in June, but following strong public opposition the town council has now confirmed further plans to take out an 18th century staircase so a plat form lift could be installed to allow access to the Bear Room, council chamber and Abbey Room, will not move forward until the authority has obtained an independent report.

The Save our Guildhall petition was created last month and already has more than 1,500 signatures, with campaigners objecting to the removal of the staircase, which dates back to 1731, as well as raising concerns about the future of the Abbey Hall, the 1960s extension to the Guildhall, which has been empty since 2015.

A statement released by the town council said: "Our proposed way of doing [the refurbishment] is controversial as it would necessitate alterations to a historic staircase in order to install a lift.

"We believe that this staircase has been altered extensively in the past and we are currently researching this."

It added the council had agreed to seek an independent expert who will assess the real significance of this staircase and the authority would then work with Historic England and planning officers to find a solution.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail, Dennis Garrett, chairman of the town council's Guildhall committee, said he understood concerns, adding: "I admire the existing staircase as with all the other historic parts of this building but disabled access is an important objective to aim for and that is why we have put forward the suggestion we have."

On the future of the newer extension he said councillors had never discussed selling off the Abbey Hall at any meeting he had attended, saying: "It is very disappointing for the town council that we have not been able to disclose the potential plans for the future community use of the Abbey Hall by other local authorities."

The statement from the town council also strongly denied any plans to allow the newer extension to be used for development, adding: "The petition is – unintentionally or otherwise – both misleading and flawed."

In response to the staircase decision Ian Littlejohn, who created the online petition, said: "This is to be warmly welcomed but we must keep up the pressure, as all they have committed to is investigations."

"They are clearly looking for reasons to dismiss the strength of public feeling on this based on their rather strange comments about the legitimacy of our petition."

The Guildhall refurbishment will include ground floor accessible toilets, turning the muniment room into a space for the town's archives, a platform lift to enable disabled access to the old magistrates' court, improvements to the reception area and complete re-paving of Roysse court gardens, including the removal of the steps on the south side of the gardens.

The aim is to reopen the ground floor of the Guildhall to the public in 2018, with the rest of the building to follow in 2018.