David Winskill: Put people before profit in Hornsey Town Hall development

Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society member David Winskill has called on council decision makers t

Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society member David Winskill has called on council decision makers to put people before profit when deciding on a developer's plans for the iconic venue. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

David Winskill, chairman of the Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum, shares his views ahead of Monday’s decision on developer Far East Consortium’s planning application to restore Grade II*-listed building Hornsey Town Hall.

A decision over the future of Hornsey Town Hall is due to be made on Monday, December 11 at a planni

A decision over the future of Hornsey Town Hall is due to be made on Monday, December 11 at a planning sub-committee meeting at Haringey Council headquarters in Wood Green. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Last year’s winning bidder in the Great Hornsey Town Hall Disposal, (Hong Kong based, Cayman Islands registered) Far Eastern Consortium promised compliance with the 2010 planning permission and to deliver the modest aspirations in the desperately unambitious disposal brief.

Cllr Strickland heralded it as a triumph and asked officers to draw up a development agreement based on the winning bid.

FEC soon had other (very ambitious) ideas and submitted a new planning application: 40 per cent higher, twenty extra flats and zero affordable housing ... with a tidy profit of £23m. Local Councillors were outraged (but shouldn’t have been surprised) and vowed to fight for a better scheme.

On Monday a special planning Sub-committee will decide whether their hard won 11 small, affordable flats (6pc of the usable residential floor area in a £140m development) will tick the box to allow a development that will tower over residents’ gardens and ruin the silhouette of a Grade II*-listed building in the middle of a conservation area while commercialising the rest of the building with only token nods to arts, education and community.

It will also generate £27m in profit and gift a hotel worth £20m to FEC.

Planning’s recommendation to Committee is impressively creative as it tries to justify approval.

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Five years ago an application for an extra floor on a building 100 yards away from HTH was refused because “its size, scale and prominent location, would be out of keeping with the design and character ... and would have adverse effect on the appearance and the visual amenity of the conservation area as a whole”. So, scraping around for a precedent to justify a pair of seven storey blocks, only meters from Reg Uren’s Deco masterpiece, the report cites Avenue Heights – nearly half a mile away from HTH and on the edge of the conservation area.

Inconsistencies and omissions marble the report. No justification for a change of use to hotel is offered; little evidence of a sustainable business model to support an arts centre is considered necessary; the loss of 80 small businesses is glossed over and outrageous claims about 400 new full time jobs are made.

The episode has helped destroy the political careers of the Crouch End Councillors: fervent Koberites they cheered on the HDV as well as project FEC. The newly minted May election candidates say that they will do all they can to stop the scheme and, elsewhere, a Judicial Review is discussed.

Catherine West has been resolute in her opposition and demands the equivalent of 40pc social housing: hopefully she will reassert this on Monday.

Planning should not be a tick box exercise to see if an application can squeeze through odd shaped holes to merit permission. Exercised properly it can be creative, responsible and deliver solutions to competing claims on our scarce built environment that provide good, sustainable community assets that meet community aspirations.

Next Monday planning councillors have the opportunity (and the reasons) to reassert community ambitions above naked profit and to send this application packing.