Open Letter to FEC

Today we have sent the following letter to FEC in response to their planning application for Hornsey Town Hall.

Jason Arthur, Natan Doron & Sarah Elliott

Haringey Council

River Park House, 225 High Road, Wood Green, N22 8HQ

 TO: John Connolly

Head of UK Development, FEC

9th August 2017

(CC ‎Lyn Garner, Strategic Director Regeneration, Planning & Development, Haringey Council; Emma Williamson, Assistant Director of Planning, Haringey Council)

Dear Mr Connolly,

As Crouch End Councillors representing the ward in which Hornsey Town Hall is situated, we want to make clear our views on your recently published planning application. The application has the potential to represent a major milestone on the road to restoring the Town Hall and provide the people of Haringey and beyond an opportunity to enjoy the building. But we are concerned that your viability report does not adequately reflect the plans set out in your application.

Summary:

Our support for your application as ward Councillors is contingent on the concerns set out in this letter being addressed to our satisfaction.

  • We welcome progress on:
    • Protecting, improve and maintain the public spaces on the site
    • Guaranteeing meaningful community use of the building and governance of that use
  • We do however have strong concerns about your commitment to:
    • Restore Hornsey Town Hall & take it off the English Heritage at-risk register
    • Guarantee a top-class Arts Centre in Hornsey Town Hall
    • Undertake a sensitive and appropriate development
    • Use this application to increase the amount of affordable housing in the centre of Crouch End
  • We also have concerns about the length of the consultation period

We believe it is important to set out the background and context to our views.

Background

The three of us have spent years knocking on doors in Crouch End, talking to people at our advice surgeries, engaging with people through social media and at public meetings about Hornsey Town Hall. When we were first elected the top complaint we heard in Crouch End was anger that the building had been closed for years and also frustration about the lack of a viable and sustainable future for the most loved building in Crouch End.

When Haringey officers approached us about the idea of ANA coming in and operating a temporary Arts Centre, we gave our approval because we believed opening up the building and letting the public in would raise ambitions about what could be done in the Town Hall. We believe this position has been shown to have been the right one and would like to take this opportunity to put on record our thanks and pay tribute to what ANA have achieved. Whether ANA or another organisation take over the running of the Arts Centre at Hornsey Town Hall, an important bar has been set for what the community can expect.

We welcome progress on:

Protecting, improving and maintaining public spaces

A significant section of the Crouch End community have expressed concern that the Town Hall square would be harmed by your development. The square acts as an important space that brings the community together. The Community Use and Access agreement safeguards public access. We are encouraged to see that you consulted with the community on the design of the square, listened to the feedback and have opted to retain the same amount of green space. Due to severe budget cuts, Haringey is unable to dedicate significant funds to invest in or maintain the square. For that reason, we support your plans to invest in the square and take responsibility for its maintenance in perpetuity. We also welcome plans to create new ‘Town Hall Gardens’ that will aid access to the library from the Town Hall. We encourage you to continue to work with the community to demonstrate your commitment to protecting, improving and maintaining these green spaces.

Community access and governance

The Community Use Agreement that was signed by FEC is one of the most important things we have fought for as local ward Councillors. This agreement guarantees the community access to the building as well as a meaningful say in how the building is used. The Crouch End Community will always have a seat at the table when decisions are made about how the community can use the Town Hall. We urge FEC to do more to promote the benefits of this agreement to the people of Crouch End so that they understand the amazing opportunities available to use the Town Hall. We also urge FEC to provide guarantees of affordability for community use of the spaces, including at non-commercial rates.

Our concerns about the planning application

Despite the progress we’ve seen on the areas identified above we still have significant concerns about the application. By failing to fully redact your viability assessment you have effectively leaked details of the profits you expect to make as well as your assumptions about anticipated revenue. Your numbers are now subject to public scrutiny as well as the expert opinion that Haringey planning officers will commission. Though you clearly did not intend for this to happen, greater transparency allows us and others to scrutinise your numbers.

This is the first time us three Crouch End ward Councillors have seen these numbers and we believe your viability assessment provokes a number of questions:

  1. Your viability assessment fails to provide a detailed breakdown of how much will be spent restoring and refurbishing the Town Hall. We urge you to set this out as soon as possible.
  2. You have based your income expectations on the asking price for properties in Hornsey and Muswell Hill. Why use asking price when final sale value is what matters? Why use flats in Hornsey and Muswell Hill when average house prices are cheaper in these areas than in central Crouch End?
  3. You estimate your construction costs to be very high but you do not go into the necessary detail for these numbers to be interrogated in a meaningful way.

In addition to these questions about your viability assessment we would like the following concerns addressed:

Restoration of the Town Hall

Restoring Hornsey Town Hall has always been the top priority of any development on this site. The Town Hall is in a poor state and on the English Heritage at-risk register. Your application and in particular your viability assessment needs to go into far more detail than it does in setting out the requirements for restoration and the need for investment to prevent the further deterioration of a Grade II* listed building. We would like to see details of a comprehensive programme of repair that addresses issues including the brick and stonework, roofs, floor and wall surfaces, decorative metalwork, and seeks to conserve historic furniture where possible. We do however welcome the preservation of the Old Hornseyans School War Memorial. This memorial has always been important to us and we made a point of meeting with representatives of the Old Hornseyans to reassure them on this point.

A top-class Arts Centre

Our conversations with residents in Crouch End have taught us that a successful and quality Arts Centre is a key aspect of what people want to see in a restored Hornsey Town Hall. The public also want to see the Town Hall site used for community uses. In recent years, the Crouch End Festival have used the Hall very successfully, as have community groups like the Songworks Choir.  We would like to see these uses continue in the future. While ANA have done a great job, we believe that, given the level of funding that FEC are intending to put into the Town Hall, the public should witness a ‘step-change’ in the quality of the arts offering at Hornsey Town Hall whoever the final Arts Centre Operator is going to be. The absence of concrete proposals for the Arts Centre have been a source of frustration to us and to members of the community, particularly as Haringey’s Cabinet approved your initial proposals ten months ago. We do not feel as if your viability report really acknowledges or reflects the potential for a top-class Arts Centre. We therefore strongly urge FEC to share their vision for the Arts Centre as soon as possible to reassure the community that it is a top priority.

Sensitive development

We understand that for the Town Hall development to be successful, then by definition the Town Hall will be busy, thriving and full of people. We welcome this while also remaining sensitive to the needs of people living in Weston Park, Haringey Park, Primezone Mews and Hatherley Gardens. It is crucial we get a careful development which minimises harm to residents in surrounding roads & maximises benefits. This includes a robust transport plan to minimise negative impacts on parking and public transport. Crouch End is already very busy with traffic and parking can be difficult. Your application must be shown to address this and we are sure the planning committee will want to probe this. The transport plan must also make it clear how the proposed hotel is going to be serviced without unreasonably impacting existing Crouch End residents. We also have concerns about overlooking onto Primezone Mews and it would be useful to have more views of the site to address community concerns about overlooking and daylight impacts. It is also important that while your application reduces the capacity for any anti-social behaviour being carried out on the site that you do not allow a ‘gated community’ to develop on the site. Crouch End is an open, progressive and tolerant community and as such a ‘gated community’ would not fit well with the ethos of the local area.

Affordable Housing

Given the housing crisis our borough and our city faces, it is critical that FEC do everything they can to boost the amount of affordable housing offered. We know that FEC stand to make a substantial amount of profit from this development and it is essential that affordable housing is provided on site. We will continue to campaign for this outcome and we encourage Haringey’s planning service to hold you to account in reviewing your viability assessment.

We think it would be completely unacceptable for the development not to have any affordable housing and will not support the application unless this is addressed.

We know the Haringey Planning Committee place a high importance on increasing affordable housing in the borough. We anticipate Planning Committee members adopting a healthy scepticism towards the arguments put forward in your viability assessment. We urge Haringey planning officers to take a similar approach.

Consultation period

We are concerned that given that number of complex planning documents you have submitted and the timing of the consultation period clashing with summer holidays that residents do not have enough time to comment. We would urge you to work with the Haringey planning department to extend the consultation period.

Conclusion

The development of the Hornsey Town Hall site including its full restoration is the most important intervention into the economy, architecture and community of Crouch End there will be for a very long time. In order for the proposals to command the support of the majority of residents in Crouch End and Haringey, it is essential that the issues raised above are adequately addressed.

Our support for your application is contingent on the issues that we have raised being adequately addressed. We urge FEC to work with us and the Crouch End community to do all we can to get this right.

We are of course available to discuss our concerns and we anticipate making similar points at the Planning Committee meeting that decides this application in the autumn.

Sincerely,

Jason Arthur

Natan Doron

Sarah Elliott

Crouch End Labour Ward Councillors

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Open Letter to FEC

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