Criticism over spending on civic centre refurbishment

Haringey Civic Centre

Lib Dems claim money would be better spent elsewhere, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

The council leader has defended a planned £12million revamp of Haringey Civic Centre that was branded a “vanity project” by opposition councillors.

Joseph Ejiofor said the project to renovate and expand the Grade 2-listed building in Wood Green would provide a “dynamic civic hub” and “community spaces that benefit residents across the borough”.

The planned upgrade of the civic centre is designed to provide modern, energy-efficient offices and civic space that would cut carbon emissions and running costs.

The opposition Lib Dems say that while they support spending £12m on repairs, they oppose spending an extra £12m on offices and that the money should be spent on a community and cultural transformation fund to “revitalise high streets”.

Paul Dennison, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for finance, business and local investment, said: “At a time when Haringey’s businesses and cultural sector are on their knees, and there is no certainty about the balance between office and remote working, the Labour council spending £12m of taxpayers’ money on new buildings for itself is a vanity project, pure and simple. We should be funding the community, not the council.”

Built in the late 1950s, the building was originally called Wood Green Town Hall, but became Haringey Civic Centre when the borough of Wood Green merged with Hornsey and Tottenham to form the London borough of Haringey we know today.

According to a report, the refurbishment will allow the council to reduce the use of its other office buildings, which will save money. But the Lib Dems say the £12m should be spent on a community and cultural transformation fund that would revitalise high streets by providing cultural and leisure spaces, places to eat and drink, start-up hubs, childcare services, council services and more.

Responding to the Lib Dems’ comments, Cllr Ejiofor said the decision to renovate the building “is not a simple choice between works that need to be carried out on the civic centre and our social and economic response to the Covid crisis”.

The council leader added: “The civic centre had to be closed for health and safety reasons because it became clear that there were urgent maintenance issues in this Grade 2-listed building, and £12m is the cost of merely fixing the problems that have been identified. This significant expenditure would still leave the building outdated.

“The additional investment into the civic centre will create a dynamic civic hub that we can be proud of as well as creating community spaces that benefit residents across the borough.

“We are not prepared to invest money and still see this building decline. Spending taxpayers’ money merely to return to the status quo is not an option.”

Cllr Ejiofor added that the proposed works would create jobs and help the economic recovery, while the budget included plans to invest in young people and support the most vulnerable.

The Lib Dems plan to propose an amendment to the budget at the full council meeting on Monday 1st March, arguing that the money should be spent in Haringey’s communities.