COMMUNITY leaders are in danger of repeating the same mistakes over the refurbishment of Huntingdon’s Town Hall as those made by their St Ives counterparts over the Corn Exchange, campaigners have warned.

Protesters condemned Huntingdon town councillors for barring the press and public from a series of board meetings on the town hall project, shortly before they were evicted from a further meeting on the issue last week.

Among the objectors were former town councillor and town hall project manager Brian Luckham, who warned councillors were "about to go down a similar path" as those previously in charge of the St Ives Corn Exchange prior to the intervention of campaigners.

Previous members of St Ives Town Council had voted to sell the Corn Exchange after consultants brought in to oversee the project warned restoration would cost millions of pounds.

However, members of the campaign group ACE stood successfully for election to the town council and then refurbished and reopened the building.

Mr Luckham said decisions about Huntingdon's money were not being made openly.

"This money is public money paid for by taxpayers. It is unacceptable and undemocratic for a meeting to decide how this money is spent to be had in private.

"Let Huntingdon matters be decided by Huntingdon people working for Huntingdon. When [councillors] started this project, they agreed the town council could not afford to repeat the errors of the Corn Exchange. It seems we are about to go down a similar path."

Also objecting to the closure of the meetings, was former Hatfield town clerk Peter Clark, who now lives in Huntingdon.

He said the council was wrong to bar the press and public on the grounds that newly-elected councillors needed to get their heads around the "complexity and volume" of the project.

He said: "This is at odds with the views of both the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and his parliamentary under-secretary of state, who both call for more openness.

"I believe that the town council needs to change its attitude and a detailed justification for any exclusion this evening would be good start."

Board chairman John Skerry defended the exclusion order and hinted that former councillors had mishandled the project.

According to sources within the council, the project could cost at least £800,000 - £80,000 over the budget.

David Langford, who was appointed as project manager to replace Mr Luckham under a temporary contract with the council, said preparations were under way to begin work in September. The refurbishment scheme is expected to finish in March.