Charity Commission withhold approval and council told to revise application
The 'sell-off' of Ealing Town Hall has been blocked after the Charity Commission rejected Ealing Council’s application to take control of the assets of the charitable Trust that owns Victoria Hall.
Ealing Council wanted the go-ahead so that it could be part of the package handed to boutique hotel developer Mastcraft.
Under the current plans the council would keep the East wing of the Town Hall for civic use, and keep the freehold of the building but granting Mastcraft a long lease.
The Victoria Hall was built next to Ealing Town Hall with money raised through a Victorian crowdfunding campaign. It’s owned by a charitable Trust which was set up in 1893 to provide a venue for the community and “Meetings, Entertainments, Balls, Bazaars, and other Gatherings whether Social or Political.”
A campaign has been running to save the Hall for the community.
Following a public consultation which closed on 7 January, the Charity Commission published its verdict. It means that the deal with Mastcraft cannot proceed unless the Council substantially revises its proposals.
In a 13-page ruling, the Commission agreed with many of the serious criticisms that the Friends of the Victoria Hall (FoVH) made of the Council scheme.
A Reviewer appointed by the Commission states in the Charity Commission Report: “I cannot see that any consideration has been given as to whether the proposals are the best that can be obtained by the Charity."
The Reviewer went on to say that that the Scheme proposed by the Council for the future of the charity applying to the Victoria and the Prince’s Halls could only go ahead only on the following conditions:
1. The charity’s property has to be properly identified (which so far has not been done) and consideration should be given to how some of the money earned by the Council from the deal with Mastcraft would be distributed to the charity;
2. The benefits provided by the charity to the public would have to be re-provided in the building or elsewhere;
3. In the light of this, the Commission would need clarification on how the Council proposed to use the money earned from the sale of the Halls to benefit the charity;
4. Steps needed to be taken to ensure that the hotel operator was obliged to re-provide the current facilities, as well as indications on how this would be monitored and enforced;
5. Procedures would need to be put in place to manage any conflicts of interest that might arise between the charity and the Council.
The Reviewer concludes that if the Council wished to proceed it would need to present a revised case “that demonstrates that the proposals now amount to a more suitable and effective use for the charity’s property.”
Roger Green, Chair of the Friends of the Victoria Hall (FoVH) said: “In the next few weeks FoVH will be studying the details of the Charity Commission decision before reaching a considered view on the options now available to us. We may need to seek legal advice on the next steps, in which case we are likely to have to raise more money to fund this.'"
Cllr Greg Stafford, Opposition Leader said: “Whilst we have been opposed to the sale of this much loved and well used public space from the outset, huge credit must go to the Friends of Victoria Hall for having the temerity to challenge the Council.
"Regrettably, the Labour Administration has been dogmatic in their desire to sell-off the whole Town Hall and have committed significant public resources to process instead of listening to concerns or trying to work with residents. The Charity Commission’s ruling echoes all the concerns that we have repeatedly raised, and I hope that the Labour Administration will now accept that the building built by public subscription is not for sale.”
We asked Ealing Council for comment and a spokesperson said: '' The council has received the report and are pleased that the Charity Commission agree in principle that a scheme is required and can be made. The Council both as landowner and Trustee will be working to answer some additional points that the Commission has raised.”
April 8 2020 (updated)