Nearly three years after it was gutted by a fire, it has been revealed that it may be too costly to restore Walworth Town Hall back to its former glory.
After a devastating blaze ripped through the Grade II listed building in 2013, Southwark Council pledged to refurbish the historic gem, putting twenty million pounds aside for the work.
But recent reports from the team working on the building, parts of which date back to 1865, have revealed the extent of the damage done and the money needed to make it safe for use.
Dry rot discovered in structural supports, caused by the burning building being doused in water for four days, is one reason why the current estimate for the restoration stands at £36million. Additional costs have also been incurred by extending the scope of the new building to include Newington Library. Insurance would pay out around £9million towards this.
Council leader Peter John, visiting the building for the first time since the fire, told the News it was now time for Southwark to decide if the public purse should pay for the work as the costs kept rising.
“We think we’ve just got to ask, is this now value for money?” said Cllr John as he surveyed the dilapidated skeleton of a building. “I’m not sure when you look at the plans that you actually get a building that makes you go wow, that’s £40million of public investment,” added Cllr John, referring to the layout of small rooms rather than large open spaces, protected by the building’s listed status.
The council is about to consult on three options for former town hall;
* The first would be to stump up the £36million and fully restore the building back to public use. This would mean stalling the project while the council tries to raise the extra cash to pay for it. It would also cost around £360,000 a year to keep the building dry and safe in the meantime.
*The second option would be to sell the building and build a new civic centre somewhere nearby.
* The third option is to retain the historic façade of the town hall but demolish the rest and build a new civic centre behind, preserving original features where possible.
“I’m conscious we pledged to restore it but not at any cost,” said Cllr John. “I don’t want people turning around in five years and saying – why did you spend £45million on this building, which we don’t think is absolutely brill?
“In somewhere like the Elephant where we’ve lost a lot of older buildings through World War Two and then the demolition of the Heygate – to try to retain as much of the character of the area with a building like this is really important. But how do you do that?”
Southwark Council will be starting a public consultation on Walworth Town Hall in the next week or two. In the meantime you can have your say at www.southwarknews.co.uk. Take our online survey here: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/X5BPSZP