By John Henry
BBC News Online
A bid to convert one of Leeds' landmark historic buildings set in sweeping parkland into council offices, a visitor centre and cafe has sparked widespread anger.
Most of the first floor and some of the ground floor will be office space
Plans have been submitted by the council to convert the civic-owned Mansion House, which sits on top of the well-manicured Roundhay Park in the north of the city.
But campaigning groups and individuals have written over 300 letters of objection to the plans.
The city council says the plan will not deny the public access to the 200-year-old building.
Plans submitted by the city council show the changes in the Grade II colonnaded building will include the wholesale conversion of the first floor into offices and a restroom.
The ground floor will be a mixture of office space and public access.
The upgrading of the building, which will include the provision of a visitor and interpretation centre and education facilities are being funded as part of a £543,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
The city is putting up £1.7m to upgrade the building as part of an £8m restoration of the park area.
But the scheme has angered the campaigning group Friends of Roundhay Park, which has the veteran show business personality Sir Jimmy Savile as president.
Sir Jimmy lives in a penthouse flat which overlooks the park and Mansion House.
Dr John Turney, from the group, told BBC News Online: "While we fully support the restoration of the Mansion House...what we're adamantly against is the proposal to convert some, more than 75% of it, to council offices.
"We're opposed to this because it is a public building, therefore it should be for the public, it's what the original bequest to Leeds was by John Barran.
"We're also absolutely horrified by the way the council have handled this.
"The formal planning application, whatever they say, shows that only 23.5% of the available floor space is going to be for public access."
Regular park user Sue Mould, of Roundhay, said: "I'm appalled by the council's application to convert the Mansion which is a public amenity for the people of Leeds.
The Orangery is earmarked as the new restaurant/cafe facility at the Mansion.
"The whole plans around the Mansion House and what's happened in the park seems almost to be some sort of sub-plot to actually get very nice council offices for the council employees in the park at the expense of the amenity to the people."
Sir Jimmy told BBC News Online: "We are thrilled at the restoration of Roundhay Park and the work bringing it back to its former glory.
"The Mansion is another question because it would appear that offices will take the place of facilities.
"That doesn't sound too good, but I hope they (the council) know what they're doing for the benefit of all."
Drawings lodged with the city's planning department show 12 offices and a restroom area outlined for the first floor of the building.
The Barran Room and Boardroom are highlighted as offices as is the Georgian Room.
The ballroom is to be split into two offices with only the landing and toilets accessible to the public.
On the ground floor the plans show the Phoenix Suite and Darcy Bar will be converted to offices while the Adams Restaurant and Craven Bar are designated as "education and meeting rooms".
Sir Jimmy Savile says any loss of facilities "doesn't sound too good"
In a statement a Leeds City Council spokesperson said: "65% of the ground floor will be available for public use. It will house a licensed restaurant/cafe, meeting rooms for community groups, an interactive visitor centre/interpretations centre, education facilities and exhibition areas.
"When the restoration is complete, approximately half of the house will be completely open to the public and the staff areas on the second floor will also be accessible as most officers will be dealing with the public.
"At the moment, you can only go into the building if you are buying something, which does not make the building truly publicly accessible to all."
The statement also says the council's main concern is to restore the building to its former glory and protect it as a foremost attraction.