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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Cllr Joe Goldberg, Haringey Council Cabinet Member for Finance and Sustainability; Sandy Orr OBE, Chairman of Mountview; Ann Wilks, Chair of HTHCT; Sue Robertson, Principal of Mountview

Haringey Council Cabinet members agreed last night to move ahead with proposals to restore the landmark Grade II* listed building

The plans backed by community group the Hornsey Town Hall Creative Trust will see the building managed by the trust and the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. The Academy will also make the venue its home.

The plans aim to "bring the Town Hall back into use, restore heritage features, see a world-class drama school in Crouch End, allow access to public spaces for the first time in many years, and offer a host of community benefits".

This all sounds like good news, however, the plans have not been unopposed. As we reported last year, the Alternative Trust, gathered was an umbrella coalition for locals who feel unhappy about the plans.

Other posts on HoL about this here.

Attached is the full press release from the Council together with the report to cabinet for yesterday's meeting.

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Beyond the 'feel good' press release, lurk few facts, which are skillfully obscured and in the great Haringey tradition most the details of this deal are shrouded in secrecy.

Haringey approved a plan to 'dispose' Hornsey Town Hall with a 125 years lease to the ‘preferred’ development partner - the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, for a princely sum of £1 and peppercorn rent for the next 125 years.

The plan includes; the surrounding land sold to cover the costs of restoring the historic features of the building, while Mountview will take responsibility for its refurbishments, repairs and maintenance throughout the lease.

In principal, I think 'Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts' is a good fit. But I am not convinced that the funding investment they'll contribute, justifies a £1 lease and rent free for the next 125 years. Nor am I clear on the public access and benefit, that will rise from this deal beyond ensuring the future care of the building.

If this is such a great deal for the people of Haringey, why the need for secrecy?

Experience tells me that whenever the term 'Preferred Developer' is used, caution and scrutiny are highly needed.
 

I'm keen to improve the outcome for Hornsey Town Hall (HTH - virtual tour here) as the plans they passed this week will see it closed to the public. Here's part of what was supposed to happen:

It's now going to be an arts school. A almost complete loss despite the promises and the £2m they've spent over the last seven years to try to find a way to make it a community space:



 Only fee-paying Drama students and the 100+ staff who'll be based there will be allowed in (except for a small internal cafe and by ticket to the public hall which will serve as a student theatre: evenings only presumably). It had more public access in it's heyday:

I hope and expect that everyone involved is doing their level best to get a win for Haringey out of this and want to do my part through this lovely website. My views are iconoclastic and probably way off beam; certainly not subject to the scrutiny I'd like to see others submit to but hey, that's life.

 

What's a resident to do?  Why can't we  keep HTH profitably controlled by the Council for all our benefit as they do with other local assets? Don't pawn the family jewels - don't bet the farm on one organisation! I've been involved in the past - it's at the end of my road here in Crouch End.

I really object to the idea that HTH needs to be got shot of and land around it sold to devleopers - all because an anonymous, unaccountable decision made by the Council years ago, possibly as a response to  Council neglect - they starved it of money so it rotted; who needs a spare Town Hall? 

Only now are they making some money renting it out as 'interim offices'. Their report says it costs £300k per year to maintain and needs £2m to repair the mouldy bits.  

I guess we could pay for the running costs by letting parts of HTH out to arts charities if they wanted to, and applying for grants to gradually improve it and open more parts to the public.  According to their accounts at the Charity Commission, 274166 - MOUNTVIEW ACADEMY OF THEATRE ARTS LIMITED are probably paying more than £600k per year for worse facilities at the moment and urgently need to move. 

 

I think even I could come up with ways of making a profit to spend offering us residents more without losing the resource for future generations to a single idea.  It would be great to use parts of this money to give local people jobs in the public sector.  

 

A Cafe in the foyer used by Drama students is not that great as there are many cafes (Starbucks etc) that can be seen from the steps - it's in the centre of Crouch End.  The foyer is not very big:

I expect Mountview is a marvellous theatre education charity and am looking forward to having the magnetic asset of a Drama School here - they spend around half a million a year on governance.

 

How did it happen that one charity got control over the entire building to make it a School out of the blue when so much diversity was promised over the last five years by the Council through Hornsey Town Hall Creative Trust and an arts school was never even mentioned?

What options do Haringey residents have when imposed on like this? The Council always seem to divide and conquer us.  Why, if the Council are professionals, do they fail to get a majority response from consultation? Is it because it would be harder to run a council where a majority opinion applied so they don't want the bother? It's this lack of mandate that gets me - why isn't representation their first priority? I blame the local councillors - it's their job to grow our assets, not fence them off - none of them have had any significant HTH input.

 

If I read the proposal the Council accepted on 26th April 2011 correctly:

1) The Council's Chief Financial Officer will decide if the proposal Mountview will submit passes muster and will commission an independent 'due diligence' report to confirm that it is legal. Nothing in the proposal needs to be legally binding and there are no means of recovery if Mountview goes bankrupt.

2) The Town Hall will be given effectively free to Mountview as a Drama School (for £1 and a 125 years lease at a tiny rent). By 2013 there will be a public cafe in the foyer and plays we can attend in the Theatre (aimed at 10,000 youngsters and families annually).  They also have a five year plan to train people in a range of Theatre disciplines up to MA level - they employ over 100 people and make around £5m/yr in tuition fees doing that now.

3) An estimated £19Million will restore the building. The Council will pay the restoration costs, not Mountview, with money from the sale of the surrounding land to developers.  Mountview will put in some of it's own money to develop the site and try to raise more over the 18 momnths before work can start. According to their accounts they've probably got around £2m they could use and could raise more as they're a charity doing good.

 

The Council seems not be able to control how Mountview actually spends any money it promises. Apparently no promises made by Mountview will need to be fulfilled. 

 

No disrespect to the hard-working great and good from the HTH Creative Trust but it looks like the 'Creative Trust' was in fact a diversion. It seems not to have achieved anything at all except introduce delay, given that the plans it amplified were already in place when it started and it's contributions have now largely been cancelled. Hope they had fun at their meetings!

 

Does the Creative Trust merit criticism as it didn't come even close to indicating to the community that HTH was up for grabs with free money if you were an arts charity? Even though it was supposed to have authority, when it came to this decision, a new Council-led Joint Working Group was established - so wasHTH Creative Trust as it appeared, or not?

 

One could argue that, as HTH Creative Trust estimated spending £12 million, their inability to get anything done cost another £7 million as restoration costs seems to have escalated by this amount, even though costs generally have fallen due to the recession. Not to mention the lost revenue from the reduced profits of the land sale now prices have tumbled. 

 

Is it in fact a political filibuster tactic of the Council to appoint a Trust of local members to divide public opposition, knowing they can steamroller it whenever they have a new opportunity to condemn this troublesome beast?  

 

Is it true that the decision has been taken a Council committee over the last month, with therefore no means of gathering feedback in advance to this sudden change of course? Given the five years that the Council-directed HTHCT has been promising a different outcome and the eight years since the Council decided to get rid of the Town Hall.

 

If so, is it in our interests to have a key public space disposed of like this? Is there any way we can prevent big bits of our environment being dealt with behind closed doors and in the face of the Council's own published plans? I hope and expect this decision to be a success, but if so, it'll be more luck than judgement - a dangerous gamble with our heritage.

 

As I presume Mountview have no experience of running a building as unique as this, what will happen if they go out of business? Is any aspect of the proposal enforceable or is it all 'best efforts'?  If things go wrong, how much is it likely to cost us?

 

If one arts charity can take it over, can others not theatre-related join in?  Will any of the space now be available to other creative people not associated with Mountview?  The artists involved with Crouch End Open Studios for example? Does the Crouch End Choir fancy it? How about a Cinema? Discussions and badly needed space for local groups not related to Drama?

 

If, for example, someone proposed something like a farmers market in front of the Town Hall, will the objections of Mountview prevail, so that we are, in fact, ceding control of this public space to a private organisation? Will we get the proimised Cinema and Cafe or will you need to be a member of Mountview to use the building?

 

Will the Creative Trust, with their years of experience, now be abolished or could they usefully act as overseers?  I don't see why it's better to have a Theatre Charity act alone.

 

The Council in their report cite their satisfaction at meeting  'the shared objectives of the Council and residents' - should they get away with statements like that? Seems as if they're laughing at us.

Here's another promise that won't be fulfilled, from the Council Website:

Many very good points!

Seems like Ally Pally all over again!

One could say - the 'Trust' was set up to create the illusion that there is a public engagement, but since it's members were hand picked by the council, they can hardly be seen to represent anyone but their own personal views, I assume those were formed and shaped by the delicate dance of provision and omission of information by those they serve.

We are told they give their blessings, as if it means anything??? We need to remember that the 'Trust' does not represent the public and their blessings does not constitute public approval, nor could it be considered a substitute to a full and meaningful public consultation on yet another attempt by Haringey to flog our public assets for peanuts.

The public was consulted on one thing and now a total different animal is proposed - I say this merit a new public consultation.

 

P.s.  In point 2) you write :(aimed at 10,000 youngsters and families annually)

If I am not mistaken the report puts this figure at 100,000

 

 

Thanks for your reply - looks like it's us against the world...

A few decide everything because they care enough to get stuck in. We know that, based on track record, ordinary people simply will not get involved, so we could admit we get the system we deserve. It's almost an argument for 'leadership'.

 

To take from Marx's gravestone in Highgate - 'the point is to change it'.

 

I don't imagine that the motives and talents of the councillors and locals on the Creative Trust or anyone else involved are anything but reflective of us all - few bad, some great mostly average. They should maybe ignore people who insist on a different solution without representation - what gives us the right to triumph?  Especially as it's almost inevitable that they have access to information and experience we don't.

 

I suppose what's missing here is that whilst we can embroider a high level, principle-driven approach that may look OK as a forum post, when they do it in their literature it looks phony and worthless. Nevertheless there doesn't seem to be a link between principles and the reality in practice - that's a major problem.

 

I guess things might change if the Council could engage effectively and I think that's surprisingly easy to do - it's at the heart of politics.  Why do they not post on this or similar online forums, or on Facebook, or Twitter etc? After all, a council priority is 'achieving high levels of satisfaction' - they do try to improve, but the basic problem, the elephant in the room, is never addressed - that people don't care what the council does unless it hurts. Nobody praises, everyone criticises.  The people don't 'own' the council. This is a big failure by the professionals and has led and will lead to more and more unhappiness. 

 

It's a cultural thing I guess - a hangover from centuries of self-serving white male dominance. People no longer attend meetings, don't vote and have little civic pride.

The council is out of touch with it's constituency and lives in a closed world where significant power is limited to those with office, in order of seniority. Are you a councillor with a good idea but your party is not in power?  If the ruling party doesn't like it, forget it.  Are you a good communicator who can get people to support you? This chain of command can't bear the horizontal pressure of modern communication, where views expressed gain currency just because they're popular or well-stated.  It's about power. Over us.

 

The failure of politicians to deal with their reducing mandate whilst trying to preserve their power by making politics into a career in itself has caused them to fail epically.  The amount of coverage given by the media to politics must surely be at an all time high - why is is then that the the respect given to our representatives is at an all time low?

self-serving white male dominance – don't know what this means in this context.

There is a common factor in some recent big attempted property deals at Haringey Council. A while ago, I noted with consternation the appointment of (now suspended) Councillor Charles Ochuko Adje to the Hornsey Town Hall Community Partnership Board and I did wonder what damage he might wreak there, as financial damage he has wrought in several other areas previously.

Mr Adje has had a knack of getting into influential positions where the council is trying to dispose of property. I hope this immensely damaging phenomenon is finished, even after the suspension ends.

A little while back, it was the Welbourne Community Centre. While Head of Finance, the then Councillor disclosed price-sensitive information to a solicitor who was anything but "independent" as he later claimed. Cllr. Alan Stanton has raised a number of questions about this case which still need answers.

 

Then there was the attempted sale of our Charity Alexandra Palace where he concealed sensitive information that, as Chairman, he should have disclosed to his fellow Trust Board members (this action led eventually to his suspension from both the Council and the Labour Party).

In both cases, the actions favoured a developer. It would not surprise me if the influence of Mr Adje's poor judgement was to be found in the HTH deal too.

The most recent Ham&High editorial rightly pointed out that public access to our building, paid with our forefather's taxes, will be restricted. The building is in places in a poor state of repair and this is due to neglect by its owner, the council. The sale of council-owned land behind HTH will mean this land is denied forever to the public as, for example, a car park or a green park. The one-off receipts will go in part towards the enormous council pension deficit, worsened no doubt by the excessive emoluments going to some council staff.

If this deal goes through, it may get the council off the hook, but it is no victory or achievement – its a defeat for the public.

 

Thanks Clive - I want to re-inforce the main point you made - that getting rid of  public land and buildings is the biggest problem and represents a defeat for the public.  If it's now going to cost £7m more @ £19m to refurbish, they're punishing us who live in this way overdeveloped corner of the borough by giving a profit opportunity to a developer to build houses for mainly rich people.  When will they realise that last thing Crouch End needs is more rich people?

Why can't the Council hold on to our valuable assets and develop them for us.  If they can keep the library next door open by using it more, why not this one? I'd like to think they could get all the money back they've spent and more, whilst growing the Town Hall into an arts-based community space employing local people - just as they promised but without giving it over to on one single purpose charity with at least 20 very well paid executives?

C.

p.s. The built environment was largely created up until recently by generations of men - almost all of them round here white.  The Town Hall was their imaginative handiwork and they made all the decisions in and around it - issuing permissions and supplying us with a much wider range of services than now. Women and minorities were generally ignored.  As was normal and is human nature, they did it to serve their own best interests at a time when social cohesion was strong and paternalism ruled. 

Why can't the Council hold on to our valuable assets and develop them for us.

Yes, indeed. The notion of selling valuable public assets, especially in the west of the Borough, for one-off benefits strikes me as hugely short-sighted. These assets will not be replaced or, if they ever are, it will be phenomenally expensive to do so. Short termism rules.

In the case of the land, or curtiledge, around HTH, the short-term approach is particularly regretable.

For one thing, a fine Grade II STAR building could do with a proper foil, and what better foil than a public park? And what better place to site a public park in Crouch End, than around the HTH? Because, it just so happens that, according to the council's own excellent map of open-space deficiency, this particular spot is smack bang in the middle of an area at least 800m from Open Space – or, high defiency of open space.

(I do think that considerations of ethnicity are a distraction, in the HTH context anyway).

Well at least they haven't linked HTH to the current round of cuts - they could have claimed they needed to sell the land to raise money because of them but they haven't so far.

 I don't believe councillors, regardless which party they belong to, have the power to actually decide anything. 9 times out of 10 they are given a very narrow and limited scope to make any difference and are being told what their decisions are going to be.

 

Often times they are used to rubber stamp policies and decisions, to give us - the public, the illusion that we are represented, or that we have a choice. So... not much hope there...

The other side of this equation are the faceless grey none elected bureaucrats, who will do anything for an easy life, all the right boxes ticked and bottom line balanced. Imagination, creativity and cultural flair are really too much to ask...

The public in this case was very much engaged to begin with. But one needs to have incredible tenacity to withstand the onslaught that was coming from the 2 camps as above...

 

And here we are...

Thanks for your thoughtful postings on this Chris.
Why thanks Hugh!

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