Contractors have started tearing the tiles off the roof of Merton Hall despite thousands of residents objecting to the controversial plans.

Merton Council granted permission in September for the partial demolition of the building which will be refurbished so Elim Pentecostal Church can move in.

The hall recently gained the status of ‘Asset of Community Value’ (ACV) meaning residents have the right to raise money to buy the building for the community.

More than 4,000 people have signed a petition set by resident Sarah Sharpe to Save Merton Hall. Campaigners have slammed the demolition as 'cultural vandalism'.

Sarah, alongside campaigners, has also called for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to review a decision by Historic England not to list the building.

Residents now say contractors have started stripping the electrics off Merton Hall’s side extension and this week tearing the tiles off the roof of the buildings.

Elaine Chambers, 70, who lives next door to Merton Hall, and has been also been campaigning to save the building, claims local residents are in negotiation to make a bid for it allowed by the terms of the ACV.

When Elaine arrived home this week to find the work going on she said she felt powerless. She said: “I am furious it doesn’t make sense. This is a tragedy. I have burst into tears and felt totally helpless and disempowered and started filming them from my window."

As a therapist Elaine says she had plans to introduce and get funding for a mental health project at Merton Hall as she cared for the garden there.

She said: “It would be a great thing to bring in people to plant seeds and talk about issues for mental health as I was going to rent a room in the hall for meetings but that won’t happen now.

“It is a disregard to heritage and residents are gobsmacked about what is happening."

A Merton Council spokesman said: "As Merton Hall is listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), the council released a notice for disposal, giving potential bidders six months to submit a bid to buy the site. In the meantime as the legislation does not place any restriction on what an owner can do with their property while it remains in their ownership, the council has begun work on Merton Hall to increase its size and capacity.

"Once the six months is up, the contract with Elim contains a clause which allows the council to accept an alternative ACV bid.

"An application to list Merton Hall, was rejected by Historic England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport."

The council signed a conditional contract with the church, allowing the transfer of the warehouse site in High Path after the partial development of Merton Hall is completed.

The plans for the hall involve Merton Council swapping part of the Merton Hall site for the Elim Pentecostal Church current location on High Path, South Wimbledon.