Council comes under attack for buying gallery

The buildings in Leonard street

The buildings in Leonard street - Credit: Archant

An art gallery has been bought by Hackney Council at a cost of nearly £4.5 million, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.

Town Hall records show that the council spent £4,368,000 buying the freehold on the space between 96-98 Leonard Street, Shoreditch, in February this year.

The council said the property would be used as an affordable “employment space” to attract startups and entrepreneurship to the borough – and claims it will claw back £200,000 a year which will be funnelled back into reserves .

But Andy Silvester, campaigns manager at the Taxpayers’ Alliance believes new businesses in the area were doing fine without the council’s help.

“This is a ridiculous waste of hard-pressed taxpayers’ money,” he said, “especially when public finances are under so much pressure thanks to years of overspending.

“When savings are being found by making tough decisions on essential services, it sends a terrible message that the council can find millions for its own pet projects.

Safe investment

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“There are plenty of low-cost shared spaces for start-ups in the borough and around east London – it’s not the council’s job to provide them.”

A spokesman for Hackney Council disagreed, saying: “The acquisition of this building will help us protect jobs and stimulate economic growth in the area by providing low-cost employment space for start-up companies which cannot afford luxury offices.

“The previous owner had secured planning consent for residential use on the top floor but we want that to be used as employment space instead.

“This is a safe investment as the space is likely to be in demand for many years to come.

“By purchasing commercial space we are able to provide flexible terms for new businesses to support and nurture them as future employers and enable them to grow.

“It is a positive step to ensure that this valuable employment space can be protected from conversion to residential use, rather than allow the building to be turned into luxury apartments that would not have been affordable to local people.”

The property consists of a ground floor and basement gallery as well as three floors of office space above.