Southwark Council is consulting on proposals for the redevelopment of Walworth Town Hall, following the fire that destroyed its roof in 2013. Responses are invited from individual members of the community, as well as neighbourhood groups. The deadline is Monday 21 January.
Two proposals are presented for consultation. Both would see the building leased to a private developer for 250 years.
Louise Young, coordinator of Southwark Green Party, said, "We're saying that the local community deserves a wider range of public-focused and community-led uses than is envisaged in either of the two proposals. These proposals put the emphasis on commerce, through private event hire and a restaurant, ahead of public uses that are part of the building's heritage. We support the Walworth Society's ideas to house the Newington Library, Cuming Museum, a reference library and archive space, as well as to provide a venue for community talks, meetings, films, performance. We want to see this historic building continue at the centre of public life, and don't want to see these resources pushed into lower quality buildings."
We are submitting a Southwark Green Party response to the five consultation questions, as outlined below. Please use this as a resource, where helpful, to build your own response.
1. To what extent to do you think these proposals bring a good mix of uses to Walworth?
The proposals present commercial opportunities — including private hire and restaurants — as though they constitute public access. This is not the kind of access that the public, in the form of local citizens and communities, is seeking.
2. Which of the proposed uses do you think you would visit the complex for?
We support the proposals of the Walworth Society for a greater range of uses, fully accessible to the public. We previously visited the building to use the three libraries (including the reference library, adult and children's libraries with their associated study spaces), temporary exhibitions, and the Cuming Museum with its excellent young people's and community learning resources. These are the uses for which we would like to visit the complex in future.
We also see a strong opportunity for these community operations to include youth services and clubs which will help fill the youth services gap that Southwark is currently facing. Research from London Assembly Member Sian Berry (see BBC report), shows that Southwark’s youth services funding has been cut by 53% since 2011, and, across London, 81 youth clubs and council youth projects have closed their doors since 2011. Southwark has the second-highest level of knife crime in London.
With the Mayor setting up a £45m Young Londoners Fund to support education, sport and cultural activities for disadvantaged people, there is a positive opportunity for Southwark to take the lead in London in helping give young people 'a safe, stable and healthy environment where they have the opportunity to develop' (New Southwark Plan, Proposed Submission, December 2017).
3. To what extent do you think these proposals respect and enhance the heritage of the listed building?
The heritage of the building is that it was built for public purposes and is part of the common inheritance of local citizens. The reduced public uses are effectively 'selling the family silver' for these citizens. To deny them the ability to pass on the inheritance to future generations, for 250 years, does not respect the heritage, but diminishes it.
4. To what extent do you think these proposals allow good public access and engagement with the building?
Space available to be booked for private events, such as weddings, or hired as workspace, is not 'publicly accessible' in the full sense. At least one proposal presents it as if it is, saying 'The public will be able to access the… restaurant for free.' It is not usually acceptable for a visitor to enter a restaurant, take a seat and not purchase anything, therefore this argument is not realistic.
5. Please tell us anything else you would like to about these proposals.
Overall we feel that the proposals seek to maximise short-term gains at the expense of medium- and longer-term shortcomings. The dominant focus on commerce, in the hands of private developers for the next 250 years, shifts the burden of future investment in public event space, community heritage and youth services back on to the public purse. Local taxpayers will have to compensate for the lack of these features in the current building. As and when such features and services are re-housed, cost constraints will locate them in buildings of lower quality and with less heritage.