There’s less than a month for businesses and community groups to submit “expressions of interest” in taking on the old Ashburton library building.
The handling of the future of this prestigious and historic building, set in 18½ acres of parkland off Addiscombe Road, was placed in the hands of Stiles Harold Williams, the large firm of commercial estate agents, six weeks ago.
The process this time around seems a good deal more open and transparent than in 2014, when the previous Tory council tried to unload the property to two members of a Thornton Heath-based church group, while leaving the tenants to undertake a considerable amount of repair and restoration work required after the council had neglected the maintenance of the building for the previous eight years.
The property was valued at that time as worth around £500,000. Croydon’s Tories, with the backing of senior council officials, were prepared to flog it off for £85,000. The in-coming Labour council administration cancelled the deal.
Despite calls for an inquiry by scandalised Labour councillors, no investigation into how senior council staff, in the Borough Solicitor’s office, in what is now called the “Place” department, or in the chief executive’s office, allowed this deal to take place has ever been undertaken.
The former Woodside Convent building was built in 1882 and is locally listed. “We are developing options for future community and business use of the library,” the council is saying in 2016, though SHW, who manage much of the Whitgift Foundation’s commercial property around the borough, have failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s enquiries about the volume and nature of interest in the building.
Submissions need to be lodged by April 30, but interested parties are being refused access to the property for viewing, because the building is in such a poor state of repair.
The estate agent-speak particulars state: “It offers a substantial footprint, covering 6,000sq ft arranged over the ground and first floor, as well as benefiting external space, including a cloister colonnade.
“It is envisaged the building will be run as a community asset, therefore expressions of interest are sought from occupiers interested in taking a lease on all or part of the building. Uses should be sympathetic to the location in the park… Uses that may be considered include: café, restaurant, nursery, education, sports, performance and health
care,” and adding that “a predominant area of the building would be retained for community use”.
With the pressure on council finance now greater than ever, previous grand plans for community use may have been quietly dropped, as Croydon Council tries to “squeeze” all assets for the best possible return.
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