Slade toilets, Plumstead Common
Before refurbishment: The block at The Slade, Plumstead

The operator of a new cafe in Plumstead which Greenwich Council is spending over £600,000 converting from a public toilet will get a discounted rent for the first five years, papers released on Friday evening reveal.

Plans to convert the closed convieniences at The Slade, near Plumstead Common, caused uproar among backbench Labour councillors last year after the cash appeared to be signed off by council leader Danny Thorpe – then deputy leader – even though the facility is in his Shooters Hill ward.

Unhappy councillors claimed costs had been allowed to spiral from an initial estimate of £140,000 and that the money could have been better spent on the nearby Slade community centre, while others said the money was being spent to fend off the threat from the independent Plumstead Party, which came second in two Plumstead wards in May’s election.

Now the council has revealed that the operator will pay a “stepped rent”, leading up to £10,000 in the fifth year of operation, with “a fully commercial rent level” coming after, expected to be within £10,000-£15,000.

The cafe will be “a local venue for culture and arts” as well as “a place for the local community to convene and enjoy an affordable yet interesting food offer that promotes healthy eating”, the report says.

‘Dedication and drive’

After 25 expressions of interest were received, five operators submitted proposals, with three meeting “stakeholders, including representatives from the local community,” none of which are named. The three offered rents varying from a peppercorn to £10,000 per year.

The successful operator, which also has not been named, “has the dedication and drive to engage with the local community”, the report says.

“Their values are in keeping with the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Strategy, in terms of ‘Healthy and Safe Living Environment’ with their strong commitment to healthy eating, and ‘Tourism, Culture and Sport’ as they will work to expand the creative and performing arts sector through providing a display space for art and a performance stage,” it adds.

“The preferred operator will also ensure that the scheme generates a social return on investment through improved social cohesion and community engagement, supported by an exciting calendar of events throughout the year and enhanced natural environment and green spaces. All of this will
contribute to better health and wellbeing for local residents and visitors.

“Letting the building on the open market to an established operator would limit the conditions that the Royal Borough of Greenwich could insist on within the lease, meaning that the extent of the community offer, including discounted rent for community groups using the space, could not be guaranteed. Furthermore, this will delay the opening of the café, meaning that the new building will be left vacant, until the operator could be brought on board.”

Labour councillors challenged the decision to spend £580,000 on the project last year, after an initial £40,000 was spent on a feasibility study.

They now have until Monday 13 August to decide if they want to challenge this further decision, which is being made by regeneration cabinet member Sizwe James.

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