Campaigners have begun their legal challenge to try to stop part of Ealing Town Hall being turned into a boutique hotel.
The council wants to finalise a deal with developer Mastcraft who want to transform part of the Grade II listed building into a 145-bed boutique hotel while refurbishing the east wing of the building to continue as council chambers.
But now the Ealing Voice group has appointed top charity lawyers Bates, Wells and Braithwaite to exploit a 125-year-old trust agreement which it says means part of the town hall must be preserved for use by the community.
The Victoria Hall Trust, which was created in 1893, left Victoria Hall and other sections of the town hall including the Princes Hall to the people of Ealing.
Ealing Voice claims when the council announced the outline deal with Mastcraft, it completely ignored the trust agreement because its lawyers felt it was no longer of any importance.
But Julian Smith, of Ealing Voice, says recent negotiations with the Charity Commission suggest it will uphold the rights of the trust.
He said: "Ealing Council mismanaged the trust for decades and said it didn't exist and kept no accounts for it.
"This is a shot across their bows. We want the Charity Commission to open an investigation and if it finds in our favour, to remove the council as trustees and appoint community representatives in its place.
"This would put an end to the Mastcraft deal."
"The best way to protect the town hall"
The council, though, says the deal is the best way to manage the building and pay for expensive maintenance costs at a time of huge government budget cuts.
It is understood it loses some £400,000 per year on the town hall.
It also claims it is keeping the community involved in the building.
As part of the Mastcraft agreement, community groups would continue to be offered a discount to hire rooms at the town hall during off-peak periods.
Price increases would be capped at a maximum of 20% above the existing hire rates for the first five years.
The Victoria Hall would also be used as a wedding venue to complement the council's existing wedding suite which would remain open.
But this doesn't satisfy the campaigners.
"The interests of the community must be served"
Will French, of Ealing Civic Society, said: "It's very clear that as a charity, the Victoria Hall Trust has to be run democratically and the interests of the community must be served.
"If they dispose of it to Mastcraft, they will run it as a wedding venue and will charge expensive hire costs.
"It's always been used by local groups at preferential rates and increasingly that will be stopped.
"Local people are going to be shut out of it.
"It's always been the civic centre of the borough and by disposing of it you're going to lose that sort of civic role."
Council leader Julian Bell says the hotel project offers the best way of paying for the upkeep of the ageing building and preserving it.
"It gives stability"
He told a full council meeting last week: "There have been delays because of the listing of the building as an asset of community value and the need to change the objectives of the trust, but the pre-planning consultation will be starting late this month, and the town hall is expected to close for the works in 2019.
"The hotel will be completed in 2020 and the democratic services wing in 2020.
"In terms of upholding the town hall's position as a centre of civic life, it costs us a significant amount of money to run in terms of ongoing and long-term maintenance issues.
"Were it not for the cuts we're having to absorb and deal with from the Tory government we might not have to do this, but it means we can transfer the bulk of these costs over to Mastcraft and that will give the council a considerable saving.
"It gives some stability to the town hall finances going forward and it's important we get that stability for the service users.
"We get a refurbishment of the civic wing at no cost to us and reduced rates for community hire will continue.
"There will be increases in those rates to upgrade the quality of facilities, but they will not be onerous and the community use of the town hall will continue and we will be able to invest more money in the vulnerable people of our borough."
"An asset of community value"
Campaigners first attempted to thwart the deal in September 2016 when they applied to have the hall listed as an asset of community value, which means it has to remain open to the community.
But this depends on a community group being able to put together a viable bid to buy the building for the community.
Community groups were given six months to raise a bid in 2016 and the council has given them a second chance this year, with the deadline to raise the cash expiring in five months time.
But Mr Smith said the importance of the community bid will be overshadowed if the lawyers find the council must accept the terms of the trust agreement. If they do, he says campaigners will then try to negotiate with the council for a more favourable outcome.
One possible alternative has been put forward by the Campaign for Ealing Performing Arts Centre. This group wants the Victoria Hall to be preserved as a genuine community arts and performance centre.
It is currently carrying out feasibility studies into the project and has raised some £6,000 from a target of £20,000 towards projected costs.
The hotel would include a restaurant, health and fitness centre, a fourth floor roof terrace and a ground level cocktail bar with bistro leading out to Dickens Yard.