HORNSEY TOWN HALL SAFEGUARDS AND ASSURANCES FOR DELIVERY
Dear Cllrs Arthur, Doron and Elliott
As the OJEU process for the disposal of Hornsey Town Hall continues, there are growing concerns that significant elements of what the successful bidder proposes for HTH might never actually be delivered.
Haringey officers have spent a good deal of time and energy designing the selection criteria for bidders in the race to develop Hornsey Town Hall. With the bidding process now well underway, it may be time to address the follow-up question asked repeatedly by the local community: what safeguards are proposed to ensure that developers deliver on promises, and don’t disappear after realising the initial return?
It’s a reasonable request, but one very difficult to answer with any confidence that such assurances are in place.
The Council are understandably eager to point to the rigours of the process and the terms of the selection criteria used, but promises and presentations will count for little unless delivery is guaranteed by contract. The stakeholders will declare the exercise a marvellous success on day one, but we remain nervous that 10 years hence something very different may appear. A worst case scenario of supermarkets or budget hotels and shoddily built flats may still happen.
These points will clearly not have escaped the attention of Haringey, so we very much hope that safeguards have been developed, particularly as we are told to place our trust in the Council and their agents, and the long-standing Hornsey Town Hall Creative Trust. But it is unfortunate that all decisions are made in secret, a lack of transparency attributed to the demands of ‘commercial confidentiality’ and the strictures of OJEU regulation. So in reality, the community won’t know any meaningful details of bids agreed behind closed doors and will be unable to challenge them before contracts are signed.
What safeguards are there?
A Development Agreement should contain necessary assurances for the actual development, to deliver a restored Town Hall. But this agreement will be limited to the initial construction period – any long term plans for the use and operation of the public spaces, or community use and access will presumably have to be realised through covenants within lease agreements.
Although in the June Haringey cabinet meeting, which authorised the disposal, another option was identified :
“The council has the option of enforcing community use obligations by way of a separate agreement, which can be enforced against future successors in title through various means.”
So the question becomes: will any agreements secure the enhanced promises made during the bidding process? Or will a lease simply reiterate the minimum requirements for delivery? Will the outline terms of Development Agreements be made public? Will the HTH Creative Trust, currently assisting the Council in the evaluation of bids, be involved in the design and conditions of any agreements? But above all – what longer term monitoring and arrangements for accountability and governance will secure these things?
Our anxiety is not helped by the Council’s continued wish to exit the scene post-sale quickly, issuing a lease without delay, and seeking to escape any future accountability:
“The council does not expect an on-going role in the future operation of the building and site or to have any role or future stakeholding in, nor carry any liability for, the Town Hall” (from the tender documents)
It has therefore not escaped our attention that the incentive is for the Council to put as little as possible in a lease. The less it contains, the fewer reasons for the Council to find itself having to reassume a role.
A Role for the Community?
With a Development Agreement which limits itself to the period of building works alone, with no transparency, and with the Council’s wish to remove itself without any monitoring or oversight, long term assurances for the project are far from secure. Ownership of the lease may change rapidly, with the uses and operations of the Town Hall changing almost as frequently. In the narrow terms of ‘community use and access’ our concern is not simply whether future owners will renege on commitments, but whether there will be anything substantial in the lease agreements to begin with.
The necessity of securing accountability and safeguards which establish good practice for future owners/operators of the complex is clear. If Haringey rule themselves out as arbiters of lease covenants, can the community can step into the breach? We remain of the opinion that only through some kind of community role in governance will any longer term assurance on promises be possible.
Yours, Mark Afford, David Winskill, Miriam Levin, Chris Currer, Amanda Carrara, Karen Partridge
Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society and Community Interest Company