Brexit market slump wrecked plan for new library, council told
Is the future of Holborn Library in jeopardy? 'I think it's a no'
19 November, 2020 — By Richard Osley
AN eye-catching project to redevelop Holborn library collapsed because it was hinged on selling new high-value private homes on the site, a council meeting heard.
Councillors were told that a downturn in the housing market triggered by Brexit punctured the scheme, which was part of Camden’s flagship community investment programme (CIP).
Around £400,000 had already been spent on the axed scheme and will be lost in aborted costs.
The CIP was famously dubbed Camden’s North “Sea Oil strategy” by Labour council chiefs when it first began 10 years ago because the council planned to drill into its rich portfolio of land and property to lever in investment for new homes and community facilities.
But Neil Vokes, director of development at the Town Hall, said the project in Holborn – which had been due to provide users with a new library, “incubator” space for start-up businesses and both private and affordable homes – had been a victim of timing.
How the new building would have looked
He told backbench councillors on Monday that preferred bidders, the You And I developers, had been forced to continually trim back its offer.
“During the process we had the Brexit referendum and I think, fundamentally, the reason that they couldn’t deliver on their tender bid was the impact that had on the housing market,” Mr Vokes said. “It was all funded through the sale of private homes that You And I would build and deliver, and because of its locations these were very. high value, residential properties that they were going to be selling.”
But he added: “The market was getting worse and worse in terms of sales values, particularly at that sort of prime level of real estate that this project was looking at and so, gradually, the dialogue with You And I kept coming back with their offer being sort of reduced in various ways.”
The New Journal revealed in August how the scheme, which also affects the organisations in Cockpit Yard behind the library, had been paused.
While CIP has been heralded as an innovative way to provide new homes and facilities during tough economic times, critics have often warned that some of its schemes relied on a property market gamble. Mr Vokes said: “The main impact on this project was the sales values which in our view was a response to what happened to the housing market after the Brexit referendum.”
He added that said it would have been a “great scheme, it would have been fantastic” but now Camden would be “reopening all conversations” on what the library service wanted for the future of the site.
Asked by Liberal Democrat group leader Luisa Porritt if Holborn Library itself was now “in jeopardy” without an upgrade plan in place, Mr Vokes said: “I think it’s a no. It’s more about how the library service wants to deliver its service.”