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.
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, festivals, 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 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.
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.
Jason, Natan and Sarah
Jason, Natan and Sarah are your hardworking local Labour Cllrs.
Since we were elected in 2014 we’ve seen:
- Hornsey Town Hall open again with progress made towards finding a sustainable future for the building
- £8million invested in Park Road leisure centre including the protection of the much-loved diving board
- 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
- Over £1million for roads and pavements with 56 roads designated as 20mph and almost 150 new street lights
- 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.