A residents group is threatening legal action in an ongoing dispute over who owns a community centre which is about to be demolished in Island Gardens.
More than 3,000 people have now signed a petition started by The Friends of Island Gardens calling for an investigation into Tower Hamlets Council’s transfer of Calders Wharf Community Centre to independent housing association Eastend Homes (EEH).
The community centre in Saunders Ness Road was designated as an asset of community value by the council in February 2016 but demolition work on the centre is due to begin this month (April) after EEH and Telford Homes were granted permission to build apartments and a new community centre on the site.
However, the Friends of Island Gardens is disputing whether EEH has any rights over the centre.
According to the group, the site on which the Calders Wharf Community Centre was built was part of Island Gardens, and so was transferred to the guardianship of Tower Hamlets Council in 1972. Although the council insist the land was included in a transfer to EEH in 2006, the campaigners say no paperwork has ever been seen to support this.
The Friends have written to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, to express their concerns and are now looking to pursue a judicial review.
Friends of Island Gardens chairman Eric Pemberton said: “We have spent four years trying to get to the bottom of how EEH acquired Calders Wharf for building their block of flats. We can’t find any record of it. As far as we are concerned, there is no written proof.
“It’s in a conservation area. It’s a beautiful park, and a beautiful view of Greenwich. We are so concerned.
“It just looks like a land grab. It’s been covered in great secrecy. Why does it have to be private and confidential?
“The Isle of Dogs is being overdeveloped already. The housing association are building a luxury block of flats there and it’s not needed. It’s all just for profit, and it hurts.”
A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets Council said: “Calders Wharf Community Centre is not a Tower Hamlets Council-owned building.
“It is now owned by Telford Homes and was sold by EEH to them through a lawful process.
“The development will not have any impact on the park and no sections of the park will be closed. It is business as normal.”
Plans for the site include the demolition of the community centre and the construction of a four storey building which will provide a new community centre as well as 25 flats. The new building will be 100sqm larger than the current community centre.
EEH chief executive Paul Bloss said: “There is a very good news story here which is about how a decrepit building can be replaced with a brand new purpose built community facility available to all, without recourse to any public subsidy.
“We wouldn’t want to speculate about the motives of those who continue to repeat unfounded and factually inaccurate statements. Perhaps it is a case of if you repeat something loudly and often enough it will believed.
“The site was transferred to EEH by Tower Hamlets Council in 2006 as part of the transfer of the Island Gardens estates. The estates were transferred to enable EEH to undertake improvements and repairs to these estates and build new affordable homes. This social purpose is why it is referred to as a transfer rather than a sale.
“The recent temporary transfer of the site to Telford Homes does involve a purchase price. This is so that the money received by EEH for the site from Telford Homes can be used to fund the cost of building the new community centre.
“When this is complete, the legal contract requires Telford Homes to transfer the community centre and land back to the EEH.”
When asked why only 19% of the new properties have been earmarked as affordable housing, Mr Bloss said: “There are currently no homes on the site. Our scheme will provide four new affordable homes, with the rest being for private sale.
“The balance of the affordable provision on the site, required by the planning consent, is made up by the new community centre which is being provided without any grant or subsidy.
“So, a dilapidated building is replaced by a new community centre and four families get affordable new homes. Isn’t that good news?”
However, campaigner and former Conservative councillor Gloria Thienel described Mr Bloss’ comments as “total rubbish”.
She said: “We had the community centre inspected. It’s not dilapidated. It was allowed to run down by EEH."
She claimed: “This is a land grab. The land was not transferred, there was no paper work to say it was transferred and I will stand up in court and say that.
“We have been fighting this since day one and we will keep fighting.”
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