PART of Skipton Town Hall is to be turned into an art gallery and new entrance to the Craven Museum.

Councillors have hailed the project as "giving the town hall back to the people" and said it would stop the historic building being seen as nothing more than a giant flea market.

Half of the annex to the town hall would be given over to the Roebuck Collection, bequeathed to the people of Skipton by millionaire Clem Roebuck on condition the paintings were exhibited in a museum or art gallery with free access.

He died in 1988 and the paintings have been waiting for a home ever since and were in danger of being offered to another town as Skipton could not fulfil the terms of his will.

The project also includes constructing a new entrance to the Craven Museum, access to which is currently tucked away in a rather dark corner of the town hall, meaning many visitors to Skipton are ignorant of its existence.

The project will cost £34,000 and members of Craven District Council's community services committee gave their approval this week.

In a report to the committee, Andrew Mackay, Craven's museums officer, said the town hall had looked run down and shown significant signs of under-investment and there had often been public criticism of its state.

It has recently been re-painted and this was a chance for further improvement.

Conversion of half of the annex into an art gallery will lead to less space for the flea markets, which are currently a regular feature of the town hall.

Coun Andy Solloway said: "There will be some people who will be disgruntled at loss of space in the annex for an art gallery, but there are also a lot more people disgruntled that their town hall has been taken away from them.

"People complain that there are too many charity shops in Skipton, but we have allowed the town hall to become the biggest charity shop of them all and most people will be very happy that the town hall is returned to them."

Another Skipton councillor, Mike Hill, agreed: "It is about time that we claimed back the town hall for the people.

"Do we want to encourage people back in, or do we want it to become just a big flea market?"

Coun John Sayer said he was probably the only councillor who knew Clem Roebuck, who lived at Starbotton, and would be delighted to see his art collection on view at last for local people to see.

The trustees of the Roebuck Collection have expressed their support of the project and the council's insurers were also in favour.

Another benefit would be to allow the storage room currently being taken up by the paintings in the collection to be used for societies such as Craven Naturalists, RSPB and other community groups.

The report to the council also raised the prospect of a second phase to the project which might involve extending the proposed reception area to include a gift shop and possibly moving the tourist information centre into the town hall.

The spending agreed by the committee will have to be approved by the full council, which is currently drawing up its budget for the next financial year.