News that Southwark is gaining a library and new heritage centre, with space to display part of the Cuming Collection, the treasure of our borough, is to be celebrated.
But there are many questions that still need answering – most importantly, what is to become of Walworth Town Hall?
The building, used as the town hall for the old metropolitan borough of Southwark until the mid-60s, was nearly destroyed by fire in 2013.
At the time it housed the Cuming Collection, a museum of national importance that gave children growing up in one of the UK’s poorest neighbours a cultural and historical treasure trove on their doorstep.
The council says for just ‘peppercorn rent’ it can get a 250-year lease from developer Lendlease where it can establish a new library and heritage centre within the wider Elephant Park regeneration scheme.
Meanwhile, the Town Hall, a historic building with a wonderful history, will be leased for 250 years to a private developer, partly let out for commercial use while leaving aside some space for community and cultural events.
The council shelved plans to refurbish the hall itself in 2015, when the projected costs reached nearly £40m. At the time, council leader Peter John told the News: “I’m conscious we pledged to restore it but not at any cost.
“I don’t want people turning around in five years and saying ‘why did you spend £45 million on this building, which we don’t think is absolutely brill?’
But developers are now saying they can fix it up for half that price, and they’ll be the ones making a tidy profit in future.
Last week we reported the council had potentially spent nearly £90 million on buying up a complex in Shad Thames, saying it was a wise investment as the collected rent would recoup the cost and then start paying for public services.
Couldn’t they have done the same with Walworth Town Hall for a fraction of the price?