Historic Walworth Town Hall, and Newington Library next door which houses the Cuming Museum, suffered significant damage in a fire in 2013. In 2015 plans were drawn up for redevelopment of the buildings, but Southwark Council has now paused these plans. They were costed at around £40 million, almost twice the original budget. Evidently there was no adequate fire insurance policy despite both these Edwardian buildings being Grade 2 listed.
Labour-run Southwark Council has published a glossy website walworthtownhall.com proclaiming an “opportunity” for “investors, developers, businesses, organisations or other consortia” to express interest in “play[ing] their part in reviving this historic gem”. The council proclaims willingness to consider “ancillary and complementary commercial uses” alongside arts and culture uses retaining “some genuine public access to... parts of the site”.
Southwark Council will retain the freehold but the leasehold may run for up to 250 years. The community is concerned that with such a long lease, a community asset is in effect being sold off to a private enterprise. The council has already sold off Southwark's other town halls to private developers. Bermondsey Town Hall has had 41 luxury flats carved out of it, each selling for over £1m, while the Peckham Town Hall complex now features 149 student flats. Both contain zero affordable housing.
In July 2017, the politically independent Walworth Society surveyed 265 local people about the plans for Walworth Town Hall. The majority agreed that Walworth needs these buildings to remain in public use, even if it takes a long time to raise the money. Respondents also want a library and a heritage hub included.
Community newspaper editor Lina Usma said: “The Library was appreciated by the Latin American community and other diverse communities in Walworth. We very much miss it, and it’s important that a library remains in this area, ideally in the Town Hall itself.”