The historic Walworth Town Hall building on Walworth Road, and the Newington Library next door which houses the Cuming Museum, suffered significant damage in a fire in 2013. In 2015 plans were drawn up for the comprehensive redevelopment of the buildings, but Southwark Council has now paused these plans. They were costed at around £40 million, almost twice as much as the original budget. Evidently there was no adequate fire insurance policy despite the fact that both these Edwardian buildings are Grade 2 listed.
Labour-run Southwark Council has never published the results of its last public consultation on the future of the building. Instead, it has published a glossy website walworthtownhall.com proclaiming an "opportunity" for "investors, developers, businesses, organisations or other consortia" to express their interest in "play[ing] their part in reviving this historic gem". The council proclaims its 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 length of the leasehold may be for up to 250 years. Newington resident Ekaterina Belcheva said: "There is concern that with such a long lease, a community asset is in effect being sold off to a private enterprise."
In recent years the council has sold off Southwark's two other town halls, in Bermondsey and Peckham, to private developers. Bermondsey Town Hall has had 41 luxury flats carved out of it, each selling for more than £1 million, while the Peckham Town Hall complex has been partially rebuilt with 149 student flats but zero affordable housing.
In July 2017, the politically independent Walworth Society published a survey of 265 local people about the plans for Walworth Town Hall. The majority agreed with these statements:
- "Walworth needs these buildings to remain in public use."
- "These buildings are an important part of Walworth’s identity and history and should be at the heart of Walworth as an area."
- "Even if it takes a long time to raise the money, I would like to see both the old Walworth Town Hall and Newington Library buildings brought back into public use."
- "The Walworth Town Hall and Newington Library are some of the most important historic buildings in Southwark."
- "If the money can be found, the ideal use for these buildings is as a Library and a heritage hub that tells the history of Southwark."
Newington resident David Powell said: "Many people cannot understand why huge sums of money are being poured into the high-rise blocks now being built around the Elephant, while the Council is failing to find funds to preserve this cultural and civic hub."