HTH Update: A response to community concerns

On 30th September we updated Crouch End on the announcement of a preferred bidder to secure the future of Hornsey Town Hall. This is a deal that will see tens of millions of pounds invested in the refurbishment of the Town Hall with the installation of an arts centre & boutique hotel. Community access to the Hall and square will be legally guaranteed in perpetuity. This is a deal that will breathe new life into what is already one of the best areas in London.

There is no doubt that Crouch Enders want to see a viable and sustainable plan for the future of Hornsey Town Hall. But if we’re honest, given what has happened with the Town Hall over the last 15 years, it’s understandable that many people are concerned that this wont be achieved. Since we were elected in 2014 we’ve always believed in fronting up decisions and doing our best to engage local people in what’s going on. That’s why we spent hours out on Crouch End Broadway and online talking to people the weekend after the preferred bidder was announced. And that’s why we’re determined to address some of the concerns that have been raised.

However, in order to answer some of these concerns it’s important to restate the situation we’re in.

Context

The Town Hall was built to house the headquarters of the old borough of Hornsey. This borough no longer exists. This leaves Haringey as a local authority with a beautiful building that is surplus to requirements. Hornsey Town Hall is also a financial liability at a time when the Government has cut the council’s budget by 40%. It costs hundreds of thousands of pounds just to keep it running each year.

The status quo is unsustainable. The Town Hall is in a poor state and on the English Heritage at-risk register. The current Arts Centre is barely generating enough to fully maintain the building, let alone repair and enhance it. Tens of millions of pounds are needed to bring the Town Hall back into a fit condition for longer-term use. Haringey doesn’t have anything near that kind of money with Government cuts stripping hundreds of millions of pounds from our budget.

It would be easy to just sell the building and dispose of the liability. But that would leave Haringey with no control over the future of the building. We want to see the building refurbished, community access preserved and guaranteed for the future and a mix of economic activity that can take Crouch End from great to even greater.

The procurement process was set up to attract bidders who could achieve this. Scoring of the bids took a range of factors into account and community benefit was the biggest single scoring criteria. They couldn’t have won without a good pitch on community access.

The Council has had to follow EU procurement rules that limit the amount of information that can be shared. Although there are those who suggest that these rules are a convenient smokescreen to withhold information, the truth is simply that for a project of this size, it is the most effective and competitive way to decide who should develop and operate from the building. We know that’s been frustrating for the community – it has been frustrating for us too. However, we believe the details of the preferred bidder’s proposals will provide some reassurance about some of the concerns that have been raised in recent weeks:

The Arts Centre

Throughout the process it has been clear that Crouch Enders support the existing Arts Centre, run by ANA Arts Ltd, and want to see the Hall continue to support creativity within the community and the borough.

The preferred bidder’s proposal is for the Town Hall to do exactly that. FEC intend to retain the Arts Centre and are proposing that ANA continues to run it. If Cabinet agrees to their proposal, FEC and ANA will begin to work up a business plan together. Their initial conversations during the procurement process provide an indicative plan, which includes:

  • Utilising the Assembly Hall so that it can host concerts, theatrical performances, festihallvals, exhibitions and other eclectic arts events. At the moment ANA are limited by the general condition of the building and acoustic performance issues. However, FEC’s investment plans will seek to address these issues in order provide a modern facility.
  • Continuing to use the Council Chamber to provide educational/ conference/ workshop/ lecture space, as well as host weddings.
  • Retain the Supper Room as a space to offer cabaret/music/comedy nights, but also be used during the day for overspill activities from other areas in the Arts Centre

The Square

hth3The Council have made it clear throughout the procurement process that the square must remain publicly accessible at all times – this commitment will be written into the final contractual agreement. FEC fully understand the importance of the square as a focal point at the heart of Crouch End. They intend to upgrade the square and retain most of the existing greenery. Investment plans will be developed in collaboration within the community and might support establishing weekly/monthly markets so that local businesses can exhibit and sell their wares.

Ongoing Community Involvement

Given how important the Town Hall and Square are to the community, we know that Crouch Enders are keen to remain involved in how both develop. FEC understand that too, which is why they are committed to setting up a steering committee that includes local councillors and representatives from community groups to shape future decisions. In the coming months, the make-up of the committee and its terms of reference will be defined and its operation will be codified within contractual agreements. It’s also worth noting that FEC are keen to support the brilliant community activity that already happens within Crouch End, including the Crouch End Festival.

The Other Bid

Opponents of the preferred bidder have leaked selective details of one of the losing bids highlighting their proposals for the Town Hall. However, what hasn’t been shared is why the losing bid was not selected:

  • The unsuccessful bidder wasn’t proposing to guarantee the on-going operation of the building. Thus accepting their proposal would have meant no long-term guarantee that the Town Hall would remain publicly accessible following development of the residential units.
  • The unsuccessful bidder proposal created additional planning risk. They were proposing to increase the number of residential units built (adding an extra storey), which would have required a new planning application.
  • The financial offer of the unsuccessful bidder was lower than FEC’s proposal.

A hotel in Crouch End?

FEC are proposing that Dorsett Hospitality would deliver a boutique hotel in the parts of the building not set aside for an arts centre or community use. The Dorsett brand has a proven track record in operating hotels, including successfully converting and running the Dorsett Shepherd’s Bush Hotel, which sits in a Grade II Listed building and was selected by Fodor (the world’s largest travel guide publisher) as one of the top 15 new hotels in London in 2015. The preferred bidder has used their experience in the preparation of their bid and appears to have included a sufficient allowance within their business plan to cover the likely on-going costs.

Businesses currently in the Hall

The preferred bidder does not include workspaces as a part of their scheme for HTH. However, the Council is actively looking for alternative locations for those currently hiring space in the building.

As part of the Council’s capital strategy, the Council will invest £1million to refurbish Hornsey Library. As part of this work, there may be an opportunity to look at how some of the underutilised space in the library could be used for this purpose and the Council has already been approached by a local organisation interested in operating workspaces in the library.

Should we be working with an organisation like FEC?

We understand why some are concerned that FEC has parts of its business registered in the Cayman Islands for tax purposes. However, it is beyond the remit of the Council or the procurement process to solve global tax issues. Our remit is to ensure that the preferred bidder’s proposals work for the local community. That’s why refurbishing the Town Hall, installing an arts centre and boutique hotel, ensuring public access and protecting the square are the key planks of this bid. FEC have indicated their desire to deliver outcomes that benefit Crouch in partnership with local community – and we will hold them to that.

Why we can’t delay the decision

Some are proposing a delay to the decision. But the logic behind this request is that the Cabinet are not making their decision with enough evidence. The Cabinet report provides information on how the winning bid will achieve the desired outcomes of the procurement process.

Other calls are for the council to walk away from the process completely. Let’s just consider what that means. It means going back to the status quo with the building falling apart and a current operator doing something popular but without a viable solution in place for the future of the building. Walking away would also send a profoundly damaging signal to the market. Some people may not like it, but in the context of draconian cuts, all local authorities have to work with private investment. To go through a massive procurement process, for officers to clearly recommend one bidder (this wasn’t a finely balanced decision for reasons outlined above) and then for the council to walk away would almost certainly guarantee that no bidders would bother coming forward for Hornsey Town Hall again and it would threaten investment in other parts of the borough.

Final thoughts

We absolutely understand why people feel so passionately about the Town Hall and Square – we do too. Which is why we would ask you to take a balanced view of the proposals and, if you have a spare moment, to read the Cabinet report which you can find here.

We won’t make excuses for the series of events that led to the Town Hall becoming derelict and without a secure future. It was a mistake to ever let things get to this stage. But we as politicians have to deal with the situation as it currently is, not as we wish it had been before we were elected.

We genuinely believe that going to the market has been the right thing to do. The preferred bidder’s proposal will ultimately:

  • Secure refurbishment of the Town Hall to bring it back to its former glory
  • See continued provision of an Arts Centre with current tenants ANA as the preferred operator
  • See investment in the Town Hall square, protecting access to it and retaining most of its greenery
  • Set up a steering committee that includes the local community to shape future developments

If Cabinet agrees to approve officers’ recommendations to work with FEC, the process doesn’t finish there. The council will be finalising the contract and we will be working with officers to provide you with more information and ensure that your voice is heard.

On Saturday 15th October, 11am, we will be out on the Broadway to answer questions and chat through the issues outlined above. Do come along if you can.sarah joins

Jason, Natan and Sarah

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Jason, Natan and Sarah are your hardworking local Labour Cllrs.

Since we were elected in 2014 we’ve seen:

  1. Hornsey Town Hall open again with progress made towards finding a sustainable future for the building
  2. £8million invested in Park Road leisure centre including the protection of the much-loved diving board
  3. Over £14,000 invested in community groups in Crouch End to provide services for the disabled, protection of green spaces and to support art and culture including the Crouch End Festival
  4. Over £1million for roads and pavements with 56 roads designated as 20mph and almost 150 new street lights
  5. Waiting times for Homes for Haringey repairs reduced from 23 to 12 days in Crouch End

Find out more by clicking here.

This record was a major reason why former leader of the Haringey Lib Dems Sarah Elliott has joined the Labour Party. This means we now have three Labour Cllrs in Crouch End. You can read Sarah’s statement about joining Labour here.

 

Park Road Leisure Centre: Investment and Improvements

Park Road Leisure Centre is one of four local leisure centres in Haringey. It is well used and valued by a large number of residents in Crouch End, which is why in 2014 we made improving it one of our five key election pledges. Two years later, over £8million has been invested in the centre. Users can now benefit from:

  • a modern fitness suite with state of the art equipmentPark Road
  • 4 new studios, including a dedicated indoor cycle studio
  • 3 pools
  • a brand new soft play area
  • a refurbished lido
  • a new cafe – Bickels Yard Food & Drink Company
  • and improved facilities and access for disabled users
  • Over-65s can use the gym facilities for free on weekdays between 9am-5pm.

However, despite the investment, many residents have told us that improvements still need to be made to the Centre, particularly in three key areas:

  1. Cleanliness and Hygiene: too often users find the changing rooms, toilets and swimming pools unacceptably dirty.
  2. Accessing the swimming pool and lido: due to the high number of lesson bookings, some users find it difficult to access the pools easily. The lido has also been closed on a number of occasions this summer, prompting concern about lifeguard provision at the centre. Some users have enquired about whether a ‘swimming only’ membership can be reinstated.
  3. Poor communication: users often struggle to get a response when they call the reception desk; the website’s booking system is ineffective; and the standard of professionalism from reception staff needs to improve, as they can sometimes appear as dismissive of users’ concerns.

Last week we met with council officers and managers from Fusion -a registered charity that works in partnership with Haringey Council to run the borough’s leisure centres. We shared your feedback, both on areas of strength and areas that require urgent improvement. Officers and managers have now provided responses on each of the three key areas of concern, outlining what currently happens and what will change:

1) Cleanliness and Hygiene

Cleanliness and hygiene levels are a key priority for the Park Road management team and more will be done to improve standards. Pool vacuuming has been introduced twice a week to deliver a higher standard of cleanliness, along with daily cleaning and maintenance regimes with regular backwashing.

The centre has 2 lifeguard teams – one for the inside pools one  and for outside. Lifeguards for the outside pools rotate every 20/ 30 minutes. Once they have done a full rotation, they then commence site checks, checking the toilets and cubicles. This gets done every half an hour. When the lido closes at 1pm for an hour, centre staff will use that time to litter pick and scrub down the cubicles and showers.

The inside team rotate every 15 minutes and they will now walk through the inside changing rooms litter picking and cleaning where necessary. This will enable staff to check every 30 minutes the wet changing village and female and male changing areas. However if there are any issues, users are encouraged to raise this with the manager on duty in the first instance.

2) Accessing the swimming pool and lido

The Swimming Schools and Haringey Aquatics are protected bookings as they are fundamental to supporting the Council’s drive to increase participation and reach children whose families would not be able to afford private lessons. In terms of the current availability of the pools:

Diving Pool:

  • General diving is available every day apart from Tuesday’s and Thursday’s and aqua is held 5 times a week.

Main Pool:

  • Causal swimming is available every day between 3pm-6pm. However, to compensate on week days the training pool is open in the day until just after 3pm to allow children to swim (apart from Fridays)
  • Casual Swimming is available Weekends between 10am – 5.00p.m.
  • School holidays – school swimming lessons are replaced with casual swimming throughout the day, with the addition of sea scooters and water walker sessions in the diving pools

However, council officers and Fusion recognise there is a shortage of water space in the borough and this adds to the pressure on Park Road Leisure Centre. It was therefore agreed that a separate meeting with local councillors would be held in September to have further discussion on pool timetabling and water space availability.

The Lido

Managers and council officers are aware of the issue of the lido paint at Park Road, which results in the pool water becoming cloudy during periods of high use. It is a defect from the refurbishment that Fusion are managing at an operational level. This issue is likely to be fully resolved once they are able to drain the lido and re-paint it at the end of the summer season.  In the meantime, Fusion are managing the visibility of the Lido water on a regular basis and the duty management team and lifeguards are trained to close the pool if they are unable to see peoples feet or the bottom of the pool.

Swimming-Only Memberships

Fusion are constantly reviewing our membership offering but by nature of the facility, it would be operationally challenging to facilitate a swim only membership due to accessibility of other facilities once in the centre.

Lifeguard provision

When we review our requirements for our lifeguard provision for the lido this is risk assessed in accordance to HSG 179 guidance for swimming pool safety. With this in mind we are confident that we meet the requirements set out and have the correct volume of lifeguards to effectively manage the session type on the day.

3) Poor Communication

Management action

To assist with improving communication to customers, we now operate a communication board for customer that is present on reception. Managers were disappointed hear negative feedback in relation to the staff as it is their aim is to always give great customer service and are constantly training staff through our customer engagement programmes. More focus will be put in this area and the Management team are always keen to hear feedback, good or bad, so that this can be acted on.

The manager holds a “Meet the Manager” session every month. The timing of these varies to allow people that work to attend. Customers can discuss any issues that they have or give suggestions on improvements to the centre or things they would like to see change/implemented.

The Website

A new website for the leisure centre is due to go live this month. The new website will also link to Fusion’s internal booking system for increased functionality. It will automatically tell users if a class is full or if there is a space to book, and is more simple and easy to use. It will also be easier to search for a class and if users attend a class regularly, it will be saved on the homepage. The website will also allow the Centre to increase communication to customers with a live commentary on upcoming activities and any facilities that maybe affected on the day.

Phoning reception

Fusion recognises that their telephone system needs significant improvement. Therefore they are currently reviewing the system to ensure that customers receive the correct information. This includes improving the automated system. Fusion are also revising the back office phone system to ensure all calls are answered, especially during peak times when reception may not be able to cope with the volume of calls coming through.

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We will continue to work with council officers and Fusion managers to improve users’ experience at the centre. It’s important that Fusion and the Council build on the excellent facilities that exist following significant investment over the last two years. We will also work with officers to publish the Council’s targets for Fusion, so that there is greater transparency on the performance of the partnership.

If you have any further feedback, either positive or negative, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us (you can get our contact details by clicking on our names below).

Jason, Natan & Sarah.

Visible, available and active in Crouch End

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As the dust settles after the election and the garden stakes get taken down, we are grateful, humbled and honoured by the opportunity we have to serve Crouch End as your Councillors – the first Labour Councillors in our ward since 2002. We know that you have given us the chance to prove that the Labour Party can serve the whole of the borough, both east and west, and we take that responsibility very seriously.

Naturally we are disappointed that Lourdes Keever was not elected in Crouch End. Lourdes was an absolute pleasure to campaign with, and as a tireless campaigner for women’s rights and social justice she will undoubtedly continue to work hard to build a stronger borough.

In addition to representing Crouch End, we have both been given positions of responsibility on Haringey Council. Jason has been made Cabinet Member for Resources and Culture, responsible for shaping the budget during an incredibly difficult time for local government. He will also look after customer service transformation, cultural projects and our libraries. Natan has been made a Cabinet Advisor for Carbon Reduction, leading thinking on how Haringey can achieve its ambition of a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

Our pledges

Too often, local politicians are only seen when an election is on the horizon. We intend to be different. Over the next four years, we will be visible and active members of the community, listening to your ideas and concerns in order to ensure that Crouch End and Haringey continue to move forward.

During the election campaign, we pledged to:

1. Drive faster progress on the development of Hornsey Town Hall, ensuring that you consulted on how it can best serve our community

2. Work with the Council and Fusion to deliver improvements to Park Road Leisure Centre and do everything we can to keep the diving board in Crouch End

3. Actively support fantastic local community groups and events such as Crouch End Open Studios and the Crouch End Festival

4. Deliver improvements to roads and pavements across the ward to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists can travel safely

5. Work with Homes for Haringey to ensure that repairs happen faster

Although it is only three weeks after the election, we are busy getting to work to deliver these pledges. So far, we have met with Mountview Theatre Academy to discuss their plans on the development of Horney Town Hall. We have also met with Fusion and the Save the Diving Pool campaign in order to see what can be done to keep the diving facilities in Crouch End. The meeting was very constructive and Fusion have publicly committed to doing everything they can to find a long-term technical solution, as well as retaining the diving pool at Park Road for the remainder of the year.

We have more work to do, including addressing persistent fly-tipping in Haringey Park, ensuring drains get unblocked on Stanhope Road and preparing for how to best facilitate a positive way forward for the new Picturehouse cinema on Tottenham Lane.

Visible, active and available

We will be regularly going on street walks to identify and address local issues. We will also be holding stalls on Crouch End Broadway (including from 2-3pm on Saturday 21st June). In addition to this, our surgeries are now confirmed and these will take place on the following days/times:

  • Jason Arthur: The 2nd Saturday of every month at Hornsey Library
  • Natan Doron: The 4th Saturday of every month at Hornsey Library

If any observant Jewish constituents wish to meet us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to organise a Sunday or an evening meeting. To make any appointments to see us at our surgeries, please contact us at the following details:

We will regularly update this blog so that residents have a clear idea of how we are standing up for them on Haringey Council – ensuring that Crouch End continues to be the best place to live in North London.

Thank you once again Crouch End. We look forward to working with everyone over the next four years.

Jason and Natan