Winskill in the Ham&High

The Crouch End Ward Councillors were right to remind us (Ham and High, 4 th April) how much we value Hornsey Town Hall. But it’s not just Crouch Enders who are worried about the future of this great resource: it has attracted attention from all over Haringey and many see it as a cultural driver for north London.

Recently, The Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation society met Far Eastern Consortium to hear their plans for the building. FEC were open, engaging and happy to share their immediate plans, the centre piece of which is a 60 room hotel. Sadly, the hotel will displace the small businesses operating at present.

Oddly, after a fifteen month bidding process, there was little detail available about other uses. Public access will be guaranteed and mediated by a Community Use Agreement that is as yet unsigned and doesn’t fully specify the spaces, the uses or offer a formula for community rates. The lease to which it forms part remains secret, withheld from public scrutiny. The green at the front will be “renovated” and access guaranteed.

More worryingly, there is no detail how the non-hotel parts of the building will be financially viable.

Before and during the bidding process, Haringey refused to countenance community ownership via a trust, seeing it as too risky. At a stroke, they cut off access to grants and revenue support for the arts: we now rely on the good will of a few rich Chinese shareholders to help make the arts project viable. Haringey has sold a 130 year lease to FEC in return for a welcome £12m restoration and the unbelievably small capital sum of £3.5 million – about the cost of two houses on neighbouring Weston Park. In return they get the green at the front, the town hall and the car park which comes with planning permission for 120 plus flats.

Valuations suggest that the car park is worth c£25m: so where did the rest go? The cynical among us read this as one of the poorest Boroughs in England underselling a major asset and effectively subsiding one of the world’s largest property developers to build a boutique hotel.

Still, we are where we are and HTHAS wants to work with FEC to develop the best settlement we can for Hornsey Town hall – to maximise arts uses, find space for fledgling businesses, make community access affordable and perhaps improve the social housing offer. Catherine West has been unstinting, calling on Haringey and the developer to work with Hornsey Housing Trust to increase the pathetic amount of affordable and social housing in the scheme. We will work with her to urge the developer to look again at how a CIC or trust could help to make the arts and community uses independent, sustainable and viable.

In their article, the Crouch End Councillors round off by saying they are “… committed to holding both FEC (Crouch End) and the council to account.” They are ideally placed to do so. Cllr Doran is chair of Planning and could insist on a renegotiation of the s106; Cllr Elliott sits on the HTH Creative Trust who helped judge the bids; Cllr Arthur is a senior member the Haringey’s Cabinet that signed off the deal with FEC.

The next time they coming door knocking you might want to ask them exactly what account they will be holding themselves to.

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