Squatters have trashed a former south London library, which is set to be turned into a cinema, leaving town hall chiefs with a huge bill to clean up the mess.
They have also disturbed asbestos at Nettlefold Hall, in West Norwood. The clear-up costs for Labour-run Lambeth Council are expected to top £150,000.
The library closed two years ago. Squatters moved into the empty building earlier in the summer and were only evicted after a court order was obtained six weeks ago.
Library closures across London have been opposed by the Evening Standard’s Save Our Libraries campaign, backed by leading authors including Will Self, Martina Cole and Benjamin Zephaniah.
Lambeth’s conservative group leader John Whelan said: “The principal concern is that all these grand plans for a cinema and cultural hub are retreating into the distance.
“It is a huge waste, there is a temporary library but it is very limited and the community is losing out. The library has been shut for two years. As the weeks, months and years pass by doubts over the project increase. My worry is the building will be demolished and turned into flats.”
City Screen Limited, which is planning a cinema and library for the site, has maintained it is still committed to the project. So far only the basement area of the building, which held burial records from neighbouring West Norwood Cemetery, has been cleared.
Lambeth Council has asked Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to change squatting laws to cover commercial premises following the damage at Nettlefold Hall.
Councillor Sally Prentice, member for culture and leisure, said the cinema plans were still in place.
She added: “Properties like Nettlefold Hall are being trashed and the law prevents us from acting quickly enough to save the situation.
“If commercial squatting was illegal, Nettlefold Hall would have been cleared within 24 hours, avoiding the very frustrating delay to this development and the estimated clean-up bill in excess of £150,000.”