An independent legal review has been ordered by Tower Hamlets council into the controversial sale to developers of land which was home to the Calders Wharf Community Centre on the Isle of Dogs.
Friends of Island Gardens are concerned that there is no documentation of the site, which was publicly owned, being transferred to Eastend Homes in 2006. They claim that if the land is still publicly owned, then any developments must be used for the community.
Following pressure from Councillor Peter Golds, the leader of the Conservative Group in Tower Hamlets, the council’s chief executive Will Tuckey, has confirmed that ‘external legal advice’ has been commissioned into the deal.
Golds said that he was ‘pleased’ with the decision. “There is considerable public interest relating to Calders Wharf and such a review would shine a light on the history and development of this site.”
The community centre was approved by the council as an Asset of Community Value in February 2016, which restricts the development of the site to existing uses. It was run by Christchurch Tenants Association for 30 years, was home to a nursery and used for community events and organisations.
Currently, a new community centre as well as 25 apartments are being built by Telford Homes under lease from Eastend Homes. The majority of these will be residential flats while four will be socially rented housing.
However, Friends of Island Gardens dispute the idea that the land’s status has changed and claim it is still be publicly owned and covered by the original Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Act 1967. The Act states that a local authority may in any open space provide “clubs, societies or organisations whose objects or activities are wholly or mainly of a recreational, social or educational character.” Earlier this year, the group started a petition demanding an investigation into the site. It has reached over 4,000 signatures.
Gloria Thienel, chair of the Friends, said: “No one can give us a piece of paper which says Calders Wharf, the land, was transferred. They’re trying to say that the land and building are the same thing but they’re not.”
Director of Eastend Homes, Steve Inkpen, said: “Eastend Homes have expressed disappointment that a small number of individuals have persisted in circulating misleading and factually incorrect information about Calders Wharf.”
A Telford Homes spokesperson said: “The scheme currently on site replaces an old, poor quality community building with a brand new, multi-purpose community facility for the Island Gardens area.”
Tower Hamlets Council have not responded to requests for comment on the status of the land or its transfer.
Responding to a freedom of information request in December 2016, the council said: “The specific transfer of Calders Wharf as part of the Housing Choice programme was included in the October 2005 Cabinet minutes but we have been advised that these are exempt from publication.” It also states that Tower Hamlets council have no record of a Christchurch Estates Steering Group being held which would normally help with any strategic decisions related to the development of the land.
Friends of Island Gardens are also concerned that not only has the site been given away but that the council may even be funding its development for Telford Homes, suggesting that papers for a development committee document from 2013 imply that the council would be paying for the new community centre with Section 106 money.
This has since been denied by both Eastend Homes and Telford Homes. A Telford Homes spokesperson said: “The community centre, which is being built at the moment by Telford Homes under lease, is being entirely paid for by Eastend Homes and Telford Homes as a requirement of the Section 106 Agreement.”
In another issues, Telford Homes have also recently demolished the wall separating the centre from Island Gardens despite previous agreements that it would remain intact. The wall was built as part of a grant funded park restoration project by Heritage Lottery Fund.
A Heritage Lottery Fund spokesperson said it has written to Tower Hamlets requesting further information to establish if the ownership of the wall was transferred from Tower Hamlets to the developer. They are still waiting for a response.