Hackney Council starts �4m town hall revamp without planning permission

A cosmetic revamp of Hackney Town Hall which will cost more than �4million of public money got the go-ahead from planners last night - although works had already begun.

Proposals to transform the building’s assembly hall into a community space to replace the failed Ocean music venue were approved by the council’s planning committee last night.

Much of the �1.1million first stage of the scheme, including the installation of car park barriers, has already been completed - despite permission not yet being granted.

This includes the installation of car park barriers and a disabled lift in Reading Lane improving access to the hall.

A new disabled toilet, double doors and bronze plaques for a war memorial and a disabled lift to access the hall from in Reading Lane are still to come.

Central and South Hackney Conservation Area Advisory Committee, which comments on planning applications, said it took a “dim view” of the retrospective planning permission being sought for work on the Grade II listed building, which closed down several years ago.

The second stage of refurbishment, which will cost an estimated at �3m, includes work on the roof, windows and doors of the assembly hall, as well as the basement toilets, bar and kitchen.

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A spokeswoman for the council said they wanted to carry out the renovations to “ensure Central Hackney once again has a community facility,” and the planned to open it back up for public hire.

She pointed out that since the closure of The Ocean, there is no such venue available in Central Hackney.

The music venue, just opposite the Town Hall was mothballed after six years after �23million of public funds were pumped into it.

It was leased this year to cinema chain City Screen.

Last year the council spent �8m restoring the art-deco grade II listed Stoke Newington Town Hall – just 2.4miles away.

The council spokeswoman said the money came from its capital budget, which does not pay for staff and services.

“This pays for one off things like this, which is why we have the money to do this now,” she said.

Discussions about the scheme began in 2002, and planning permission was obtained in 2007 but has now expired.

The council made �44m of budget cuts in March.