A TOWN is in turmoil over plans to finance a £4.5m council move by selling off local assets.

Repeated attempts by local councillors to discuss the issue have failed and meetings have been called off.

In the face of the unprecedented level of protest now sweeping across Richmond, desperate efforts are being made to find a much larger venue to support the weight of people power.

Last Wednesday, Richmondshire District Council's resources committee attempted to hold the meeting in Richmond School's Middle Hall, thought to be the largest venue in the district.

It can hold 500 people - but when more than 800 marched in, swamping the hall and blocking the fire exits, chairwoman Wendy Morton was forced to call a halt on safety grounds.

Council leader John Blackie, who remained behind to meet some of the protesters, later had to be escorted to his car by police.

Earlier in the month, at the council's premises in Richmond, a meeting had to be cancelled on similar grounds when more than 200 people crowded into the chamber.

The row centres on the council's move to purpose-built premises in nearby Colburn and, in particular, its efforts to finance it.

More than 4,000 people have signed a petition - equivalent to half the town's population.

Officials are recommending the sale and development of two car-parks - at Station Road and York Square - and the sale of five council buildings, Swale House, Friars Wynd, Frenchgate House and numbers 20 and 33 Frenchgate, as well as land at Gatherley Road, Brompton-on-Swale.

The buildings, some listed but regarded as sub-standard for a modern council, would be sold as offices or for homes.

The protesters are also against the possible sell-off of play areas and open spaces following a Government directive to councils to examine their landholdings.

A decision on the latter is not expected until next month - but it is though that council officers are about to recommend that all the play areas, and the majority of the open spaces, should be retained.

Richmond district councillor Stuart Parsons has made a formal request for a referendum to be held on the office move and sale of assets.

Neil Foster, Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Richmond, is backing the protest and will write to John Prescott.