Is clock tower out of time?
Campaign group claims expensive restoration is a ‘white elephant’
06 December, 2019 — By Calum Fraser
Mike Power, vice-chairman of the Clocktower Residents’ Group, in Caledonian Park
A GROUP which opposed a multimillion-pound heritage project say their concerns have been justified after a café was closed and a visitors’ centre was left “understaffed and underused”.
The refurbishment of the iconic Caledonian Clock Tower, in Holloway, sparked uproar from nearby residents who said the council’s plan was ill-thought-out when it was brought forward three years ago.
Neighbours in the homes surrounding the tower by North Road led a campaign to persuade the Town Hall to change the plans – but the scheme was pushed through despite opposition.
The tower was reopened in June to “great fanfare” along with a café and heritage centre which the residents had argued all along should have been built at the other end of the park in Market Road, where they say the footfall is much higher and the disturbance of construction work would be lessened.
Less than six months on, the Tolpuddle Café is closed due to “staff difficulties”, the tower is open one day a week and the centre is barely used, according to Clocktower Residents’ Group vice-chairman Mike Power.
“The project seems to be becoming the white elephant of the local community’s fears,” said Mr Power. “The café is on the wrong [north] side of the park to attract sufficient customers, and this was pointed out by our local community endlessly before it was built.”
He added: “During the whole period of the council’s so-called consultation with the locals we never saw a business plan for the project.
“And we were fobbed off with misleading and inaccurate excuses for ignoring our plea not to build just 15 metres from our homes.”
The council put about three-quarters-of-a-million pounds into the scheme while the Heritage Lottery Fund pledged almost £2million.
Caledonian Park’s grade II*-listed, 40-metre tower was taken off Heritage England’s “at risk” register last month after repair works.
Mr Power said: “After more than two years of disruption during the building work in Caledonian Park, we are saddled with a project that is just limping along. Local people are still hoping that some good will come of it all. If not, our worst fears that it will become a white elephant will be realised.”
An Islington Council spokesman said: “Caledonian Park’s restored clock tower is the new heart of the park and is very popular with many local residents, groups and visitors.
“Thousands of people have enjoyed activities so far and we have a strong, popular programme of events and sessions, with schools booking well into next year.
“We’ve had very positive feedback about activities at Cally clock tower and are working with local residents and the community to develop new activities.
“We’d like to thank the Friends of Cally Park and all our volunteers for their help and support.”
The café is set to reopen in the new year.