The Gunnersbury Park Joint Advisory Committee, at its meeting on Friday 7 June, learnt that AlphaPlus, the owners of the Falcons School, have withdrawn from discussions to take over the Small Mansion. The Committee also learnt that it had not yet proved possible to hold or even arrange a meeting with AlphaPlus to explore the reasons for their decision. Despite having known this for over a week, it was not included as a late item in the Committee’s agenda, and it would have been withheld had not questions been raised at the meeting.
The report to the Committee, written before receiving the AlphaPlus decision, said:
“Meeting has taken place with alpha plus group following the decision by both councils to award preferred bidder status. This start up meeting covered a number of project areas, but most importantly the consultation and engagement. Both authorities have received letters from local residents on this proposal, with specific comments on the covenants. It was agreed that a consultation meeting would take place in June, at the small mansion, where residents could attend to speak with the full project team from Alpha Plus Group. This meeting has yet to be arranged”
This type of tendering process was conducted under European (OJEC) procedures, and we have been advised that if the preferred bidder withdraws, it is not possible to transfer the preferred bidder status to any other bidder. The process has to start again from the beginning.
The Friends have asked Ealing Council officers to be able to see the documents which marketed the building. We have been passed on to Ealing’s property advisers, Cushman and Wakefield, who will only release access to them after receiving a signed confidentiality and indemnity agreement, to which the Friends are not prepared to accede.
The decision to get the Small Mansion “off the books” and thereby save the costs of repair, restoration of a listed building and long-term maintenance was part of the strategy agreed between Hounslow and Ealing after Ealing’s rejection of the outcomes of the public consultation in 2009.
The two councils’ Project Board wanted to go straight ahead with marketing the Small Mansion, citing (amongst other things) the dangers of procrastination. The school’s interest was already known. The Friends’ had urged them to wait until we were successful with the main Lottery bids to get the best conditions for inviting tenders. While many companies logged on to the Cushman and Wakefield tendering web site, very few took it further. By the end, the catering/wedding venue (similar to Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park) had withdrawn, leaving only two proposals for apartments and the school.
The Friends held a meeting on 11 May to discuss the AlphaPlus proposal and to prepare their contribution to the anticipated public consultation. 23 members attended. Had the proposal gone ahead, the Friends’ position would have been to reject the proposal for this school. It brought too little public benefit to the Park. We did not want to see an area of the park fenced off for the school. We were sceptical about the amount of community benefit being offered (i.e. hiring of school rooms when not being used). We thought a lease of 200 years was far too long and the rental far too low. The details of the rent review process would have been important. We would have wanted to know which company would own the building – the school, or its parent property company – and what control on future uses we would have when the school might close or move. We would have been looking for information about things like traffic, parking, security and the integration of the school into the management of the whole estate. Some of these issues were related to it being a school, others to coping with the implications of private ownership within a public estate.
We are only faced with this situation by the long term failure of the two councils to properly maintain this (listed) building. If they are determined to continue with the strategy of getting it “off the books” and out of public hands, then it would be better to decide what use would be best for the Park and work to bring that about. This sequence of events reveals just how much we need a strategy which treats the Park as an integrated estate with a proper system of management and governance.
Please note: Since 9 June, when the report above was posted the local community web-sites have posted the story and added comments from both AlphaPlus and the two Councils. You can read their piece here
(12 June 2013)
GREAT GREAT NEWS !
Looking @ a ofsted inspection details, there was never enough car parking & recreation space for 200 kids. as per Alpha’s plans. we could have been duped if plans went ahead. a 200 year lease ! lol..lol..lol.. they are rarely given out.not in this borough tho. so why they were looking for one beats me !
I agree the small mansions should be regenerated after the parks entire regeneration. I would love to see a building for the whole community to use. Cubs,scouts, girl guides, day time play group, multi use spaces for kids parties, therapy rooms, meeting rooms, a nice coffee shop, computers & books for the community. a re-gifting shop as well. . the list is endless. . every blade of grass in Gunnersbury belongs to the public to enjoy. not the private sector.
Well done to Ofsted inspectors for providing us with the info to fight these plans & well done to everyone who fought for the mansions to stay public.
beauwestlondon on 11th June 2013 at 16:47 PM