Thursday 27 January 2011

H&F Conservatives' Dishonourable Approach To The Irish Community

Last night there was another large public protest at Hammersmith Town Hall after H&F Conservatives went back on their word and began plans to sell off the Irish Cultural Centre in Blacks Road, Hammersmith. The charity that runs the Irish Cultural Centre have asked for time to raise funds so they can purchase the freehold but the Conservative Administration has quoted a price of £2.3 million which is nearly 50% more than its value at the top of the market in 2006 and they are insisting that they will vote the sell off through at the Cabinet Meeting scheduled for 7th Feb 2011.

The Leader of the Council had previously given his word that the Irish Cultural Centre could keep their current lease until 2017 and the Council went as far as drawing up a contract which was agreed at a cabinet meeting. But the Conservative Administration then changed their minds, refused to sign the contract and instead brought new proposals forward to sell the centre to property speculators.

Contrast the local Conservatives’ approach to the Irish Cultural Centre with their approach to the buildings needed for a new Free School. They have bent over backwards to help Toby Young (who is a journalist on the Daily Telegraph and Spectator magazine) take on two Council buildings for his scheme. We still do not know what price Mr. Young will be charged for these Council building but do, however, know that the Irish Cultural Centre has not received anything like the Council support he has. It appears that there is one rule for some and another rule for others. I hope the Conservative Administration will come clean on all its dealings with community groups and explain the disparities.

Cllr. Daryl Brown was amongst those Labour Councillors at the meeting who spoke in support of giving the Irish Cultural Centre time to raise the funds to buy it. She has kindly sent me her speech from last night which is published below and says it all:

“I want to speak of the importance of the Irish Centre, not just, for the people of Hammersmith and Fulham but also as a major cultural beacon for Anglo-Irish friendship and cultural relations.

I know that this Administration had struck a deal with the Irish Centre and the central bone of contention is that deal was broken. I ask you to think again. Surely as men and women of honour your word is an important thing?

The Irish Centre needs to be seen in the wider context. It was built in 1995. A period when the troubled relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom was still troubled.

The aim was to build on the positive - providing a platform for Irish culture in the centre of London. Not just for those many Britons of Irish heritage but for all Britons here in the centre of the most multi-cultural city on earth.

Yes it was a Labour Council that built it but this new Irish Centre was bigger than politics. It signified that there might… just might… be reason for optimism about how these two communities mixed on our two small islands off the west coast of Europe.

The Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998 and endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum just a month later. And as Ireland and the UK work together building a shared European future there is a strong mutual respect amongst these two close allies and little doubt of the deep and blossoming friendship.

There is no more important Irish cultural centre in Britain than the one here in Hammersmith…. So why put that centre at risk of closing down?

I know the Leader of this Council must have some appreciation of the centre’s importance because on the 30th June, he phoned the Irish Ambassador to tell him of his plans. Now, I appreciate that there are diplomatic niceties but I would guess that must have been a difficult conversation. The Ambassador would surely have known that the Leader of the Council was breaking his word.

Now Cllr. Greenhalgh may want to comment on that but let me tell you my understanding first:
  • In April 2007 the Council agreed the Charity would have a 5-year lease between April 2007 to March 2012;
  • It waived the market rent;
  • And in March 2008 the Leader of this Council agreed to extend the 5-year lease by a further 5 years; 
  • In January 2009, the Cabinet formally agreed this which would take the rent period up until 2017;
  • Indeed, the Council provided a draft lease in April 2009 and full terms were agreed between the Irish Centre and the Council in December 2009;
  • The Charity signed the agreed lease in January 2010;
  • The Council never signed…
Now where is the honour in that?..

Currently, this Administration is saying that the Irish Centre will have to buy the building or pay a full market rent or vacate in March 2012. And to add salt into the wounds they have come up with a trumped up purchase price of £2.3 million – nearly 50% more than its value at the top of the market in 2006.

I believe this Council has to do the honourable thing. Cllr. Greenhalgh has to stick to his word and that means that the Council must honour their agreement to extend the lease to 2017. Failing that, the Council should extend the lease in order to provide sufficient time for the Centre to raise funds to purchase the freehold itself.

I don’t believe I am alone in believing a person’s word matters. So, Cllr. Greenhalgh, for the sake of your reputation, for this Council’s honour and the future of the Irish Centre… please stick to what you agreed.”

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