Wimbledon Park Hall in Arthur Road reopens 11 years after being sold off
A community hall sold off more than a decade ago to be left empty and unused has finally been re-opened to the public.
Tennis, keep fit, theatre groups and the 14th Wimbledon Scouts were left out in the cold when Wimbledon Park Hall in Arthur Road was sold in 2003.
Now, after eleven years of negotiations between the residents association and council, a community facility has re-opened beneath a block of flats.
Iain Simpson, chairman of Wimbledon Park Residents Association (WPRA), said: "The community centre is now open for people to book for classes and events and we are hoping a café will be open in the next two to three months.
"On Saturday we had our first customer, a ballet class and we hope to see the hall nice and busy and provide a great community centre for residents in the area."
The WRPA campaigned to save the old town hall when it was slashed by the Labour-led council in 2003.
Councillor Andrew Judge, who was leader of the council when the site was sold, said: "It was closed ten years ago as part of budget cuts, because it was a dilapidated old hall that was barely used except by the Scouts and Cubs: most activities being attracted to the rather better equipped church halls nearby."
In response to residents’ complaints, Coun Judge found the Scouts an alternative venue and devised a clause in the sale of the site to ensure the developer included a community centre on the ground floor of the site.
But by the time Coun Judge left office in May 2006, plans had still not been signed off with developers.
Further delays under the Conservative-led council were criticised in a 2011 government Ombudsman’s report, which said residents "suffered injustice" from council delays between 2007 and 2008.
The development was then further delayed after the 2008 financial crash halted property development across the country.
Property developer Shaukat Hussein finally started work on the building in 2012 and the Wimbledon Park Community Trust, a company directed by developers and the residents’ association, signed a 99-year lease with the council to run and let the hall and café in October last year.
Merton Council paid £125,000 to fit out the new centre.
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