Hornsey Town Hall Square – the view from Crouch End

One of the key concerns voiced at the Forum’s March AGM was the future of the Town Hall Square, – and with the whole Hornsey Town Hall kit and caboodle mere weeks away from a transfer of ownership from Haringey Council to the Far East Consortium, we took a look.


Make no mistake, this is Crouch End’s town square, its village green, a space high on the list of community priorities and a valuable open-space amenity for local residents – for too long neglected by the Council. This is the approach to a fully realised Hornsey Town Hall, the square framing the listed heritage buildings and whatever activities find their way onto it, they’ll impact the town centre.

The current plan is to transform the space, with a new design for the green (albeit one that references the past), new paving, new planting, space for events and pavement cafés. However, some details remain elusive. The proposals exhibited last summer and the designs submitted as part of the planning application may well have undergone significant revision. We wouldn’t know – beyond the initial options exhibition, no public engagement has taken place. So what decisions are being made? Will there be opportunity for a public review of the work?

The Forum believes that this is Crouch End’s civic space, and as a matter of principle public consultation on design, function and management of the square is required.

Perhaps you have a view? When asked previously, few locals wanted wholesale changes and many mentioned the retention of the existing grass and trees. Flexible use was also a key desire. To an extent these wishes are met by the current proposals, but many other questions have yet to be addressed – Who will be managing the space? Will it be closed occasionally for private events? What uses, events, and activities are envisaged? How much will comprise cafés? Will it be a vibrant space, attracting a diverse audience? Will it be a part of the Arts offer? What will the rates be for community use?

– And before we forget, there’s the development timetable itself. For how long will the Square be closed?


Design

The Town Hall Square is a key component of the listed civic buildings, and any change must be measured and seek to enhance the heritage asset. So we’d like further reassurance that any original work is not lost, and in particular that replacement materials should correspond with those used in the 1930s, should not detract from the setting of the listed buildings, and should respond to the distinctiveness of the area in a neutral fashion (a colour palette?).

Clearly major changes to the space are afoot with almost all existing features removed (kerbs, roadways, paving, benches, etc.), though while the grass moves, the fountain looks to be preserved in situ.

The replacement features should be high quality, particularly the surfaces – and we would like further information on final choices of materials with details of design, orientation, bonding, ducting, drainage, and durability. As mentioned above any decision regarding soft landscaping is keenly followed by users, and will the result be appropriate for a range of usuage, and a variety of users? What of seating design?

The design will dictate use and function, and we are interested in how the balance between grass and paving is struck (and whether flexibility is built in – power points?). For example the recent formation of a new town square in Muswell Hill overtly sacrificed planting for a larger paved area, the better to accommodate markets and events. Can and should this be the model here?

Other issues play a part in design decisions, such as disabled access and pedestrian movement and desire lines. Lighting too – mention was made in the planning submission of the reinstatement of 1930s lamps, is this still intended? And cycling – where will the many cycle stands be positioned, and will there be secure cycle parking, or even space for cycle hire schemes?

The detractors to the square remain a concern. We’ve lost count of the number of requests to see the back of the redundant telephone kiosks, and for improvements to the bus stand/shelter. But who’s negotiating with TfL, and will Crouch Enders be consulted? – we’re the ones standing in line.

It’s also the case that the public realm does not cease at the boundaries of the square. The architects plan to create a new space ‘Town Hall Gardens’, and we are keen to see a positive interaction with Hornsey Library and library users. The square at the corner of Hatherley Gardens should be part of thinking too.


Uses

We welcome the opportunity to animate the space – but what uses are possible, and can they co-exist in harmony with a space of public amenity and relaxation?

Cafés and Catering

One café exists of course, currently operating as Middeys – but will it continue with the same outside space (and fixed canopy)? And what of the additional café/restaurants announced for the Broadway Annexe and the Town Hall west wing? Will they also have outdoor space? If so, under what arrangements, and to what extent? Is a Street Furniture Management Plan (which would seek to ensure the street furniture integrates visually with the historic public realm) available? And what do potential commercial interests have to say?

With three cafés planned for the space (not including the bars within the Town Hall) maybe we don’t need further pop-up catering which may be a coming suggestion, and there is a danger of over-commercialisation and the creation of a food court rather than a place of relaxation. We’d certainly prefer a condition restricting outlets to movable street furniture and retractable awnings.

Arts/Festival Space

A popular choice of use, and not limited to the Crouch End Festival (who only use the Square twice a year). Are there plans, reflected in design decisions, for other outdoor performance and events (with a winter canopy perhaps)? What about, for example, themed food and drink festivals? Who has been approached? And can such events take place within the confines of paved areas without creating problems for the grass?

Markets

Income generating of course, and art, craft and food markets are increasingly popular – but local traders remind us that markets should ideally complement the existing town centre retail offer. Once again, the space available isn’t clear – is the planned paved area sufficiently wide to allow stalls? Also, what servicing requirements are necessary, and where would support vehicles be located?

Public Art

Why not? – and we’d like to see the square more identifiably part of the Arts offer of the Town Hall. We’re also aware that various directional and information signage may be desirable (perhaps Town Hall heritage information?). But please, nothing too commercial.

Of course, any or all of this shouldn’t get in the way of continued public access, with locals and visitors able to enjoy the space freely.


Management

The planning conditions include a Public Space Access and Management Plan, to which we would wish to contribute – and we think it useful to spell out a Maintenance Plan for the space (and the planting).

We’re not unaware of the potential for conflict between activities on the Square and nearby residents. Hours of operation are an issue. Equally, anti-social behaviour should be designed-out when possible – has damage from skateboarders to the new benches been considered? Also, event management may be necessary, though the extent to which shuttle buses, and taxi drop offs are required isn’t clear. Servicing too.

Lastly, Haringey and TfL’s ‘Liveable Neighbourhoods’ initiative, a separate project due to spend £5 million on roadway improvements in Crouch End, should be factored in. It has possible impacts on provision of bicycle parking, materials choice, bus stop designs, and includes pavement widening for the Broadway, and nearby road modal closures. The Forum will be pushing for a joined up approach to town planning in Crouch End.

From masterplanning to landscaping to detailed work, we hope a productive relationship between developer and community will be found.


The project received formal planning permission on March 13th, and FEC expect to be granted the lease before the end of April. Work should start in the summer after the June Crouch End Festival. The Forum’s blogs on Hornsey Town Hall can be found here. A Community Liaison Group, campaigned for by the Forum has been agreed. More later, and please do comment below.