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Friends of Victoria Hall challenge Charity Commission in Tribunal over its support for Ealing Council to sell off Ealing Town Hall

After waiting nearly two years, a court case by Friends of Victoria Hall to challenge the Charity Commission over its support for Ealing Council’s attempts to sell off Ealing Town Hall took place last week ( 20 – 22 February 2023) at the Charity Tribunal in central London.

A decision by the Tribunal is likely to take three months.

In a statement, Friends of Victoria Hall said: “We believe that our very strong case was well represented at the hearing by our barrister who demonstrated a firm grasp of the case’s 10,000 pages of documents. We expect it could be three months before the Tribunal makes its decision known.”

It added: “In closing the proceedings, Judge Damien McMahon noted that the case raised some important principles: “There is a lot to consider. Our aim will be to issue a decision at the earliest opportunity.”

The Tribunal is the culmination of a long-running campaign against Ealing Council’s six-year-long attempt to sell the Town Hall – including the Victoria Hall, which does not belong to them – to hotel developer Mastcraft.

A spokesperson for Ealing Council told EALING.NEWS: “The council’s proposals for Ealing Town Hall were drawn up following a long public consultation process, and the developer partner was selected via a public procurement process that had at its heart a brief that sought to secure the Town Hall for future generations, in a range of uses appropriate for the 21st century.

“The arrangement ensures that Ealing Council retains the freehold ownership of the town hall and community use in the key parts of the building will continue. Council meetings, weddings and citizenship ceremonies will also continue.

“Part of the Town Hall is owned by the council in its capacity as trustee, and a separate committee – including three completely independent members – takes all decisions on the part of the Trust. Meetings of that committee take place in public wherever possible and local residents regularly take the opportunity to participate in those meetings.

“In the course of decision making, several proposals for alternative uses of the Town Hall were put forward by local resident groups and considered in detail by the council. None were found to be viable propositions that would secure the building for the enjoyment of the community in the long term.

“The Tribunal proceedings were brought by two local residents against the decision of the Charity Commission to approve the regeneration proposals that would secure the future of this iconic building. Ealing Council, in its capacity as trustee, took the decision to participate in the proceedings in order to ensure that the best interests of the Trust are represented. The Charity Commission remains a party to the proceedings.

“The Tribunal proceedings took place over three days from 20 -22 February 2023 and we await the Tribunal’s decision.”

In July 2016 Ealing Council entered into an agreement with Mastcraft to sell off the Town Hall on a 250-year lease to turn it into a luxury hotel. This is despite that over 20% of Ealing Town Hall consists of the Victoria Hall, built by public subscription and since 1893 the property of a charitable trust set up to run the venue for the benefit of the local community that had paid for it.

Campaigners highlight that Victoria Hall is the only large venue in the Borough that’s easily accessible from Acton, Ealing, Greenford, Hanwell, Northolt, Perivale, or Southall. The 2016 deal, they say, would mean it would become part of a luxury hotel, with only limited and scarcely affordable access available to local people.

In 2019, Mastcraft submitted its application for planning permission.

In March 2021 despite fierce local opposition the Charity Commission agreed to let Ealing Council take over the property of the charitable trust.

The hearing took place nearly two years after the appeal was lodged by two local residents Will French and Tony Miller.

Mr French, one of the two appellants against the Commission decision said: “It is very good news to hear that this matter is coming to a head at last. It’s been in nobody’s interest for this affair to have dragged on for so long, effectively denying the communities in Ealing the use of a facility they have enjoyed for over 125 years. The Hall was given to the people of Ealing as a memorial to Queen Victoria and the level of public support for FOVH’s campaign shows how much it is still valued.”

Mr French and Mr Miller launched their legal challenge in April 2021 on behalf of the Friends of the Victoria Hall (FoVH), which has raised over £70,000 to pay for legal advice.

The Friends of the Victoria Hall still need to raise money to cover the legal cost of the proceedings which it is doing via a crowdfunding campaign. 

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