A volunteering charity has won permission to convert its former training facility into a nine-flat development.
Volunteering Matters (VM) plans to alter and extend what used to be a listed Victorian school on Hornsey Road – empty since 2014 – in order to maximise its onsale value.
However, councillors at a 31 October Islington planning sub-committee were concerned about the future use of the community space which would remain part of the new development.
Cllr Paul Convery (Lab, Caledonian) said: “Who’s going to run it? How’s it going to generate revenue? How’s it going to wash its face? This is what’s called speculative development, isn’t it?
“I’m a bit of a dog with a bone on this. It’s taking what had been a voluntary organisation and training project and turning it into residential.
“I completely understand that delivers a substantial capital receipt to the trust and enhances their balance sheet – that’s what charity trustees ought to do with redundant assets.
“But maximising the financial returns of an applicant is not one of our policy goals. Our goal is to secure certain uses.
“I’d like to send a very clear signal that the expectation here would be for community uses, though I’m a little sceptical about providing a community space and just hoping that someone will want to rent it.
“At the moment this is just an open-ended commercial opportunity.”
Cllr Angela Picknell (Lab, St Mary’s), who chaired the meeting, echoed Cllr Convery’s concerns, calling the use of the space “a bit of a loose end” and a “tooth that’s going to fall out, if you don’t quite know what’s going to happen to it”.
The committee resolved to prohibit any entertainment or leisure uses for the new buildings.
The proceeds from the sale of the blocks will be reinvested in the charity, with a percentage going to Islington Council’s pension fund, of which Volunteering Matters is a part.
Oonagh Aitken, VM’s CEO, said: “We’re disposing of our bricks and mortar in order to support more volunteer management. Members will be aware that trustees under charity law have a duty to dispose of any assets at best value.
“We could not dispose of the building at strict non-residential use at a price that would be best value. A key issue with the building is currently how much work it would take to make it suitable for other occupiers.
“So we took the decision to apply for residential development on the site in order to minimise further ongoing costs for the building and to enable us to move forward and meet our financial obligations and objectives.”
VM is a national charity. Its volunteers support young people within the care system in Islington. In 2017, 73 mentors were supporting 63 people through the scheme.