Greenwich Council’s treatment of the historic Borough Hall has been criticised after a theatre charity put the building on its “at risk” register.
The Grade II listed building on Royal Hill, which opened in 1939 as part of the old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich’s town hall, was put up for sale in 2020 after plans to lease it to a theatre company fell through.
The Theatres Trust, which compiled the list, said the venue would need “significant investment” to be brought back into use. It has been empty since Greenwich Dance moved to Charlton House in 2018, after which it was briefly squatted.
Talks to lease it to Selladoor, a Deptford-based company which runs regional theatres across the UK, collapsed in 2020. It had planned to put in a rooftop bar and expand the main hall to install 640 seats.
Nine years ago, the council had even planned to move Greenwich Theatre from Crooms Hill into the venue. Now the trust fears the Borough Hall could be used for a commercial development instead.
A sale would see the council lose its last interest in the old Greenwich Town Hall, the administrative side of which, including its clock tower, was sold in 1973 and converted into offices.
A developer is looking to turn that side of the building into flats, although full plans have not yet been submitted. The Theatres Trust said those proposals could also threaten the Borough Halls’ future as a performance venue.
“Theatres Trust has had various discussions with the council over the years highlighting the importance of the Borough Hall and the opportunity and potential for the building to return to live performance use,” it said.
“We have raised concerns regarding the market sale of the building and requested that the council ensures the future viability of the building for its original use as a performance venue is considered before consideration for non-cultural uses.
“We have been strident in our opinion that we do not consider the collapse of negotiations with one theatre operator to disprove viability.”
Greenwich Council’s Conservative opposition leader, Nigel Fletcher, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he had “serious concerns” about the approach the council was taking.
“Once again we have an historic building in Greenwich which has been allowed to fall into disrepair by the neglect and mismanagement of the Labour council,” he said.
“I have serious concerns about the approach they have taken to the Borough Hall – they were warned the scheme they were pursuing was not realistic, and sure enough that deal has now collapsed, leaving the building at risk.
“It is a mark of shame that this has been allowed to happen again to yet another of our historic assets.”
James Haddrell, the head of the nearby Greenwich Theatre, offered his support in keeping the Borough Hall in cultural use.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “This area of Greenwich serves as an epicentre for culture, both in the local area and for the capital.
“The demise of the Borough Hall, which is a key part of that picture, would be a huge loss – and with the right operator and the right programming or activity model to work sympathetically and cohesively with the rest of the local offer, a renewed Borough Hall would cement the area’s cultural significance into the future.
“I know the local authority is as committed to the venue’s cultural revival as we are, and we have offered our full support in ensuring that the historic venue remains and that artistic use continues to sit at the heart of the Borough Hall’s identity.”
Jon Morgan, the director of the Theatres Trust, said: “Theatres Trust would urge anyone who owns a theatre building to consider its long-term value as a performance space and work with us to keep these buildings in use for their communities.”
Additional reporting from Kiro Evans, Local Democracy Reporter