26th August 2015

HORNSEY TOWN HALL – A COMMUNITY ASSET TRANSFER

Dear Councillor Kober,

We are writing to raise issues with you about the forthcoming sale of Hornsey Town Hall, and propose an alternative route that the council could take.

 

We request an urgent response on the issues set out below:

 

  1. Full Cabinet consideration of Community Asset Transfer of Hornsey Town Hall
  2. Delay of the OJEU disposal process for 6 months in accordance with Community Right to Bid legislation

 

 

  1. Full Cabinet consideration of Community Asset Transfer of Hornsey Town Hall

As a matter of urgency, we request that the council considers Community Asset Transfer (CAT) as an alternative to the sale of Hornsey Town Hall through the OJEU procurement process. We have set up Hornsey Town Hall Community Interest Company to provide a vehicle for this purpose. Our reasons are …

 

  1. a) CAT meets council objectives

The council’s objectives are:

  • To achieve a restoration of the Town Hall
  • To facilitate cultural, community activities and a positive contribution to the local economy
  • To remove Council liability
  • To integrate the Town Hall Square in the scheme

 

Transferring the asset to a Community Interest Company (CIC) can meet all of these objectives. Most importantly, transfer into community ownership with the appropriate governance would go further than a private developer to ensure that the community aspirations, as captured through the public consultation carried out by Hornsey Town Hall Creative Trust (HTHCT) and the urgent need for a full restoration of the fabric of the building will be delivered, while removing the liability for the building from the council.

 

  1. b) CAT would simplify the procurement process

By taking the car park to market without the encumbrance of the town hall, we believe the sale would attract more potential investors and achieve a larger capital receipt which could be invested in the restoration programme.  Bundling the car park with an obligation to restore the town hall over complicates the offer and will deter possible buyers.

 

  1. c) Historic England places no barriers to achieving a CAT

Officers at Historic England have informed us both that renovation works can be phased, and that “an escrow agreement or an alternative strategy for disposal could be appropriate, providing it secures the future repair and viable use of the listed building”. Historic England’s publication ‘Pillars of the Community’ sets out in detail the routes that local authorities and communities should take into order to facilitate a Community Asset Transfer of a heritage asset. We would like to work with Haringey on this process. There is no reason to cite the conditions in the current planning permission as a barrier to a CAT.

 

  1. d) Funding is available to pursue this option

If the council is in support of this process, we have been advised by the Architectural Heritage Fund that we would be eligible for exploratory funding to put together a business case for asset transfer, making Council expenditure beyond that already earmarked unnecessary. Further, a CIC with charitable status will be able to attract funding and a favourable tax regime that commercial organisations are denied.

 

  1. e) The CAT option has not been fully considered by council

We do not believe that the CAT option has been fully considered by the council and, despite asking, have been given no evidence to the contrary. Saheeda Parveen has asserted that: “This solution was considered but is not being pursued as it does not provide a viable solution that meets all of the council’s objectives and statutory obligations”. We can demonstrate that it canprovide a viable solution, and the lack of discussion over this option is an omission in both the Cabinet debate and the GVA options appraisal.

 

You and colleagues have said that you welcome a community bid. If a community group can demonstrate that it has a viable and sustainable plan to lease and run the town hall post-procurement, then why not adopt a simple process to sell the car park to raise capital for the town hall rather than hope that a kindly developer will decide to work with community groups following an arduous OJEU process.

 

Previous discussions about long term uses of the town hall did not have the benefit of being informed by operational model being developed by ANA (currently running the town hall as the Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre).

 

In light of the above, we ask that the council:

 

  1. Delay the OJEU disposal process for 6 months in accordance with Community Right to Bid legislation

 

So far we have been disappointed by the council’s approach to the listing of the town hall and square as an Asset of Community Value. Though the legislation requires a 6 month moratorium on the sale of the asset, officers have told us that we will be given no such pause to enable us to put a bid together, but that the procurement process and moratorium will run concurrently. This is absolutely not in the spirit of the legislation.

 

Further, to trigger the moratorium, the council must give notice of intention to dispose of the land. Though logically, this would be done on publication of the OJEU tender notice, your officers have notified us already (August 19th) meaning that the 6 month ‘pause’ must be triggered immediately – losing us at least a month as we cannot possibly start to put together a community bid until the terms of the procurement are clear, should we wish to pursue this option. We are additionally prevented from participating in the OJEU process (despite the council ‘welcoming’ community bids) as a new CIC will not pass the tests in the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire, disqualifying us from participation at the very outset of the tender process.

 

We ask that the intention to dispose notice is withdrawn, at least until the OJEU papers are published.  We also ask that our questions about the contradictions between the Community Right to Bid legislation and the OJEU process with regard to a community bid be addressed.

 

We ask you to postpone the OJEU process itself for 6 months. This would be in keeping with the Community Right to Bid legislation. If the Council wished it, the ACV listing could be used as a prudent intervention.

 

The six month pause on the sale could be used to mutual advantage. An immediate pause would allow a period where both parties could thoroughly test the prospect of an asset transfer, and enable us to create a viable sustainable business plan. We believe that the funds and guidance of such bodies as AHF, HLF, and Historic England could facilitate this and provide a ready-made map toward an asset transfer to a CIC with a robust and sustainable future.

 

We request an urgent reply on these matters and make ourselves available to meet at your convenience.

 

Yours,

 

Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society

Mark Afford

Chris Currer

Amanda Carrara

Adrian Essex

Miriam Levin

David Winskill