Connecting Crouch End and Hornsey with news, views and information
THE Council has promoted the Hornsey Town Hall (“HTH”) sale for many months. At each step, the website and HP magazine hail a new milestone on the way going forward to secure the vibrant exciting future and working together. All thanks to a robust procurement process (as with the attempted sale of Ally Pally in 2007).
2014 July 16 Wednesday—HTH update: Gateway Review
2014 November—HTH Options Appraisal Final Report for Publication (PDF)
2015 January 23—Soft market testing and HTH
2015 January 26—Securing the best future for HTH
2015 March 26—HTH: Q&As from community and stakeholder engagement
2016 July 28—Final bids made to restore HTH
2016 September 30—Bright future for HTH
2016 October 12—New arts centre proposed at heart of HTH
2016 October 13—HTH letter in the Ham and High
2016 October 18—£27 million HTH investment proposal agreed
2016 November 15—Haringey secures major restoration of HTH (update)
2016 November 15—Haringey secures major restoration of HTH (news)
2017 January 27—Innovative ideas for HTH’s future
2017 February 15—A secure future for HTH
2017 February 15—Update—HTH
2017 May 26 (last update)—Frequently asked questions (about HTH)
April/May – Haringey People magazine—A secure future for HTH (PDF, p.7)
June/July – Haringey People Leader's Column reference (PDF, p.2)
As may be seen, the promotion (propaganda?) of the disposal has been consistent and one-sided.
However, such was the concern about the sale of this major public asset, that it was called in by the Liberal Democrat Group and by a respectable sub-set of the Labour Group.
It went to the Council's own Scrutiny Committee … but the overweening Cabinet largely ignored Scrutiny's concerns. Crouch End Councillor Jason Arthur is a key member of Cabinet, holding the powerful Finance brief.
It is his Cabinet colleague Alan Strickland whose letter appears in the Ham & High (3rd in the above list). Cllr. Strickland is Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration and since March 2016, also responsible for Planning.
Beautifully documented Clive. I could add the contributions made by councillors Arthur and Doron at the Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum, and by councillors Doron and Elliott at the Development Management Forum.
But that was last week's position. Things have moved on. The Crouch End Labour triumvirate have adopted a new stance, as the saviours of Crouch End, against the evil villains of FEC. Read all about the Volte Face here.
ADRIAN, I've now read for the first time both of your excellent write-ups.
I attended the packed Development Management Forum, saying nothing, but listening carefully.
As anyone there would know, the meeting was overwhelmingly uncomfortable with the Proposal. The Cabinet Member for Finance (and Crouch End Councillor) Jason Arthur spoke at length at the end.
He mounted a sort of rearguard defence of the scheme. He acknowledged there was frustration. He called for more clarity (in the Application). More clarity was needed on this and more clarity on that. If only there could be more clarity, perhaps the public would think better of the Application.
Have I summarised Cllr. Arthur unfairly?
Well, with the publicity last weekend attaching to the Economic Viability Statement, it looks like clarity came as a thunderbolt.
THE inadvertently leaked HTH details—and the quick-time volte-face by the triumvirate—is bound to make those residents across the Borough who follow such matters, wonder how things might be different if no Planning Viability Statements were redacted and all information were made available.
For the present muck-up, I note that the Cabinet has promoted this deal for months. Perhaps the most relevant role (property-related) in Haringey's all-powerful Cabinet is the Finance portfolio.
A role that is currently also occupied, by one of the local representative trio.
Re the new promise of more 'clarity' on the Town Hall project... It would of course be good to know more about many parts of it, but there's one particular area that's so far as clear as mud – the status of this mysterious hotel.
I've worked in travel publishing a long time and have a decent awareness of how the travel business operates. When I first heard that FEC proposed that its own hotel arm Dorsett Hotels should operate a 55-room boutique hotel in Crouch End I looked them up, and saw that as you probably know they're a Hong Kong based chain that operates large-scale business hotels mainly directed towards Asian travellers. They've been expanding significantly outside their HK-China base recently and currently have 4 projects in the UK listed on their website – the one in Shepherd's Bush is already open and has 317 rooms. None of their hotels worldwide has under 200 rooms and some are over 500. They are big.
It is frankly unheard of for a big-scale Asian hotel company like this suddenly to start up a one-off mid-to-small size hotel like this completely out of whack with their usual business model. This doesn't happen in the modern, corporate hotel business. Unless Dorsett had taken a decision to start up a 'boutique brand' within the group, and Crouch End is to be graced with the first one. But there's no sign of that anywhere, and if that really were their plan, you'd expect them to be dead keen to tell the world about it. But no. Curiously enough the Crouch End project still isn't listed on the Dorsett website, even though all their other projects-in-progress are, including the 3 in the UK.
All very strange and, as said, mysterious. I asked Dorsett to explain where this hotel fitted into their business model, long-term plans etc, and got vague non-commital answers (though more than I got from Haringey Council). Since then the 55-room boutique hotel has become a 67-room aparthotel (with or without kitchens) but without any more 'clarity'. At one of the open day sessions on the project, fronted by the architects, the hotel was by some way the part of the project that they were vaguest about (to the point of having no useful information at all).
If it's so very unclear why a company like Dorsett would want such a small project, and if it's to be an 'aparthotel' that – let's be cynical – could easily be turned into flats for sale if FEC claimed the hotel was unviable, then this obviously leaves open a whole lot of questions – such as, do they actually ever intend to open it as a hotel at all? Why the mystery, so little information, so much vagueness? At the very least, 'clarity' on just what FEC/Dorsett propose for this hotel and how it fits into their long-term planning should be required before it's just waived through.
I'm delighted that someone who knows about the hotel industry has commented here. I don't, but I do have some experience of reading corporate accounts and I looked up the annual report for the Shepherds Bush hotel, which is available from Companies House. The impression I had from the figures was that a hotel in Crouch End, which is much smaller and remote from the city centre than the Shepherds Bush one, might not make much profit at all, before one even considers the difficulties of access to the site for taxis, etc. So it seems quite reasonable to think that the leaseholder might come back to the Council at some point and ask to turn the hotel rooms into flats, if the hotel is not sufficiently profitable.
The other thing that can be seen from the accounts is that the UK company makes lease payments to a sister company in the British Virgin Islands that actually owns the property, and this has a bearing on its UK taxable profits. Taxation is fiendishly complex and one shouldn't jump to conclusions without full information, but it is reasonable to want to know precisely what the tax arrangements for Hornsey Town Hall would be, and how they would ensure that the right amount of UK tax is paid, at the right time.
Thanks both for the illumination. We (HTHAS) have tried to get closer to the hotel, but to cut things short, are no nearer than when we started.
The boutique 4 star affair did indeed give way to the aparthotel in May, only for FEC to announce in July that they were taking the kitchenettes out. However a look at the drawings in the planning tells you that they're back in again (perhaps they never went away). Oddly, no mention is made of aparthotels or 'serviced apartments' in the accompanying text, and certainly (as you mention), no business model discussed or feasibility presented.
We quizzed them about why they were interested in such a small operation in Crouch End, but have had no credible answer. The basic defence is that they are an international hotelier, and know about such things so leave it to us (this assertion was clearly good enough to pass muster in the bidding process). Dorsett do have a boutique brand, 'd.Collection', which has been suggested at HTH. But the suggestion was a throw away remark. I remain unconvinced of any of it.
FEC could have applied directly for residential within the TH - and as the space already has consent for resi, they would get it too, so I'm not sure why they would go through the expensive route of building a hotel, only to then reapply and rebuild as flats. Doesn't make sense.
My own feeling (nothing more) is that they applied for this project with the intention of securing their credentials for public/private developments. Once done they would have a portfolio piece and a way-in to some much larger and more profitable deals down the line (Manchester). Other than ensuring they achieve their 20% return, they don't have a huge amount of commitment, hence the failure to pin down anything about the arts centre... and the hotel? Well, they're hoteliers, they don't know what else to do, so stick one in, it wins them the bid, except now they don't quite know how to pitch it - and their architects don't know what the client wants.
So I couldn't agree more with the call for clarity about the hotel. If it fails, this is a grade II* listed building in danger of becoming a white elephant.
Dorsett do indeed supposedly have a 'boutique' brand called the d.collection, which consists of 2 hotels in Hong Kong, of 142 and 162 rooms. Their boutique-ness seems to lie in that they're a little small(er) compared to the other Dorsett hotels and have more individual decor. They still offer a range of hotel facilities (full reception – not aparthotel-style apartments – restaurant-bars, fitness centres...) though not as many as in the big hotels (swimming pools). However while 'boutique hotel' is of course a very vague marketing label these two hotels would generally be considered too big and too corporate to quality as 'boutique' in Europe. And they're certainly not comparable to anything that could be fitted in to the Town Hall, so we're none the wiser!
I can certainly see that building a hotel only to turn it into flats would be a weird way of operating, but there are so many things unclear about this proposal that one can't help wondering. As you say, Mark, it often looks as if different things were chucked into it just to add icing on the cake.
One other thing about Dorsett/FEC is that on their websites they are very clear in their 'mission statements' etc that their main business strategy is to 'meet the demands of the rising [Asian] middle class' and, in their hotels, specifically, to 'follow the Chinese wallet', the new Chinese middle class travelling overseas, who are currently by a very long way the fastest-growing sector in travel worldwide. This means, for example, that their hotels in the UK and Australia (so far) cater particularly to Chinese guests with services they like and reduce culture shock (such as a choice of western or Chinese restaurants for all meals).
All well and good and perfectly understandable for a China/HK-based company but I can't see at all how this relates to a mid-size (apart)hotel in Crouch End.
In May I wrote to Dorsett in Hong Kong as a travel journalist asking them these main questions – Where would the HTH hotel fit into Dorsett's brand range and their existing UK projects? Would it be part of the d.collection? Would it be the first of several small-scale Dorsett hotels, and is so what's the new strategy, given that previously they've only built big-scale? – and – How does the HTH project relate to their idea of the 'Chinese wallet', and would it be specially oriented to Chinese customers?
I didn't expect much, but hoped at least for some marketing guff that would be open to 'interpretation'. Eventually I was passed to the office handling HTH here, under John Connolly. All I finally got back was this (this was just before the confusion over the kitchens...). You may have already had something similar, but FYI in case it's useful –
<It was good to speak with you when you popped into one of our consultation sessions for Hornsey Town Hall. To confirm, FEC is proposing a 67 room apart-hotel which will be operated by Dorsett. We believe an apart-hotel provides the most flexible use so we can accommodate all aspects of a diverse leisure/corporate sector ranging from short one/two night stays to longer periods of accommodation (maximum stay is 90 days).
The project for the restoration of Hornsey Town Hall is unique – the apart hotel element of the scheme will help to cover the extensive running costs associated with the Town Hall and will guarantee its future. In terms of our target audience, it will focus on those visiting nearby attractions (including events at Alexandra Palace) along with people who are working in London. At present, as you will be aware, there is not much of a hotel offer in Crouch End.
In terms of timescales, we are aiming to submit the planning application in late July with a view to starting on site in spring 2018.>>
So no real enlightenment there, and no sign of any promise of greater 'clarity' any time soon.
Absolutely agree Nick, we went through the Dorsett portfolio awhile back without gaining any further understanding, and met John Connolly a few times face to face - and received an identical response (I even wrote to Winnie Chiu)
That the medium hotel in Muswell Hill closed down without great lament suggests there may not be a huge amount of Ally Pally demand - and why concert goers would require a long stay aparthotel I dunno.
Maybe there is demand in Crouch End? Maybe the Chinese wagon is a-coming down the street (I note the new Dorsett hotel at Aldgate has a brand new Shikumen restaurant too, 50% off if anybody's interested). But as you say, where's the plan?
The HTH arts centre remains even more mysterious. A multi-million pound project, public subsidy for the restoration from Haringey, a grade II* listed building - and not so much as a feasibility study to share, let alone an operator, a vision, or a programme.
Nick, Mark, Diarmid, Always hopeful, I wonder has anyone from Haringey Council or any of the Crouch End councillors contacted you to get more information and ideas from the useful research you've been doing on hotels etc?
People in our Council have sometimes been known to use the term "co-production". Maybe some of the new lot in May will sing the tune as well.
Quick answer, very easy – nope, whenever I've asked the Council anything about the hotel they've referred me to FEC-Dorsett!