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For a more affordable Southwark

Southwark’s Town Hall Sell Off

Just six months after retaking power, the returning Labour administration resolved in Nov 2010, to sell off the Council’s town halls and move all operations to an office building near London Bridge.

Bermondsey Town Hall

Bermondsey Town Hall - now luxury housing

As a result, Bermondsey Town Hall was sold off in December 2012 to developers Hollybrook Ltd, for the knock-down price of £4.3 million.

Extract from Land Registry title

The developers divided up the old Town Hall into 41 private apartments, which have been sold at the prime end of the market. In 2014, the developers produced a marketing promo video showing a tour of the inside of the converted Town Hall:

Peckham Town Hall

Peckham Town Hall used to serve as Southwark’s main Town Hall for its core administrative functions. In Decemeber 2014, the Council sold it with planning permission to a Jersey-based developer (Alumno Developments) for just £5m.

Peckham Town Hall

The planning permission gave consent to demolish the existing theatre at the rear of the Town Hall and replace it with a new theatre, albeit with a 7-storey extension above. The extension and converted Town Hall accommodation was consented to provide student accommodation containing 149 student rooms. It would also provide ‘affordable’ studio space for artists and a cafe run by the Council’s long-term cultural regeneration partner Hotel Elephant.

Proposed extension to Town Hall

Paragraph 62 of the planning report explains that the developer has submitted a viability assessment, which claims that it cannot provide any affordable housing because of the high cost of providing the new theatre and art studios; it justifies its position in claiming that “these facilities comprise substantial planning contributions that would bring a comprehensive range of activities and services of significant benefit to local residents, community groups and individuals”. The officer’s report for the application concludes as follows:

Officer’s report for the planning application

The report goes on to assure the planning committee that the section 106 planning agreement would ensure that rent levels of the student accommodation would be “no greater than rents of comparable student housing”; and that the artist’s studios would be “significantly below market rent for comparable spaces”.

Officer’s report for the planning application

However, the actual section 106 planning agreement (drafted after the planning committee gave its approval) provides no mechanism for defining ‘comparable student housing’ and says that affordable workspace rents should be “NO LESS than 45% below market rent for comparable properties” - a significant typo, to the benefit of the developer which passed the Council entirely by.

Section 106 agreement (13/AP/2979)

Shortly after the agreement for disposal of the Town Hall was signed, one of the Council’s senior regeneration officers was employed by the developer Alumno.

The redevelopment is expected to complete in summer 2016, for the expected intake of students in September 2016.

Tooley Street

In the meantime, having sold its two main Town Halls for a combined sum of under £10m, in December 2012 the Council resolved to buy the office block it had been renting in the interim (from a Guernsey-based developer) for the sum of £170m.

New £170m Council HQ at Tooley st

Meanwhile the Council continued to argue that it simply didn’t have the funds to continue to maintain the Heygate and Aylesbury estates..