EIGHTY people who expected to voice their protest over Kirklees Council plans to switch services to the local library were evicted from Batley Town Hall last night amid rowdy scenes.
Police were called in to move the audience after council officers threatened to end the meeting.
Local historian Malcolm Haigh, who has campaigned vigorously to preserve the town hall as centre for the community, led the protesters as the majority re-grouped in the adjacent market place and registered their disgust.
They claimed that what was billed as a consultation event was never intended to be a public forum.
Katherine Morris, assistant head of the council's Cultural and Leisure Services, had invited visitors to write down their suggestions for how the town hall might best be used and post their comments on display boards. Council officers were on hand to answer any queries, she added.
Her announcement brought immediate objections.
"It's a shambles," retorted local residents' representative Jack Bunn.
"People have come along to have their say not to write things down. It's good that councillors and election candidates aren't here electioneering.
"Kirklees must realise we are customers who pay our council taxes. We expect to be heard and to receive service," he said.
Under council proposals, the rent collection and housing office and information services would be relocated across the market square in the recently refurbished library.
Mr Haigh, the author of three books and several booklets on the history of Batley, attempted to restore order and argued that even at a consultation event visitors expected to express their opinions.
He said the majority who attended were under the impression there would be a question and answer session.
"The leader of the council promised a consultation meeting and we thought this was it," he added.
"Instead of being delighted that so many people had sufficient pride in the town to turn up, the officers denied us freedom of speech and asked us to leave."
Ms Morris warned the event would be closed if there was any disruption. After 20 noisy minutes two police officers arrived and advised the protesters to leave.
"The people who attended obviously had different expectations," she said.
The protesters resolved to continue the campaign and to press for a council strategy to increase usage including lowering town hall hire charges.