The future of Crouch End’s Grade II* listed Hornsey Town Hall has been the subject of discussions, initiatives, partnerships, plans, visions – and a lot of head scratching and heart ache – for the last twenty years.
The latest instalment in the saga began early 2015 when Mountview Theatre School decided that their bid to take over the building to restore and convert it into a drama school just couldn’t stand up financially.
What, then, were Haringey to do next?
They turned to a commercial estate agent called GVA and commissioned an options paper. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the options they came up with were, well, commercial. Earlier plans, developed by the Hornsey Town Hall Creative Trust had involved a housing development funded restoration then a community asset transfer when a sustainable business plan was in place for an arts centre.
Haringey’s Cabinet decided that the preferred option was to go for an open market disposal of the building via a European procurement process (OJEU). The package would include the car park at the rear for housing, the town hall and the green and square at the front. The successful bidder would have to ensure some community use and access and have responsibility for restoration. In return they would get to build 120 new dwellings in what is described as a £75m project
Meanwhile, in late 2014 a small outfit of event organisers called ANA had been chucked the keys of the Town Hall with the brief to put a few things on, keep the building warm and try and reduce Haringey’s running costs. To date, they have been a fantastic success with Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre and brought this wonderful edifice back to life with a wide range of well attended events.
In June 2015, for the first time, Crouch End Festival got unfettered access to the Town Hall and, wide-eyed with amazement, 10 000 people walked through the doors scarcely able to believe what has been nestling at the back of the green.
Within days, the Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society was formed by six Crouch Enders. Their initial ambition was to revive the community asset transfer idea and they set up the Hornsey Town Hall Community Interest Company as a vehicle to make this possible. Despite the registration of the site as an Asset of Community Value and a petition signed by 2,500 people, Haringey refused to reconsider the selling off of the town hall and green.
The OJEU sale process started late last year and five bidders are left in the running. A winner will be chosen by autumn this year.
Given this, the HTH Appreciation Society is now working hard to talk to all of the bidders to set out the community’s vision for the future of the town hall and green. They have been arguing the case for so much more than the minimal community use and access that is required. Instead setting out a compelling vision for a sustainable arts, performance, community and small business hub with community governance at its heart. HTHAS has invested much time in building up it’s mandate, bringing on side just about all the local community and arts organisations, as well as holding a public workshop to clarify the guiding principles and aspirations that should guide the regeneration of the site and discussions with developers.
You can visit http://www.hthas.org.uk to read the principles and a lot more on the background to what could be the most exciting thing to happen in North London for decades.