Myddleton Square was developed by the New River Company nearly 200 years ago. It has always been a public garden. In 1975 the New River Company was purchased by London Merchant Securities which in turn was taken over by Derwent in 2007. The garden has been leased to Islington Council for a peppercorn rent for a number of years, and the council has the responsibility for its maintenance. This lease runs out in 2013.
When the Angel Building on St John Street was redeveloped by Derwent recently, £400,000 was given to the Council under a section 106 agreement for the refurbishment of the square garden. This money has to be spent within a certain time period.
In 2008 Derwent sold off its residential properties in Islington, including Myddleton Square Garden, to Marcus Cooper, a property developer. Islington Council was unaware of this at the time and it only came to their attention when Mr Cooper, as the freeholder, refused to allow the council to carry out any renovation work to the garden. The Council offered Mr Cooper £10,000 for the purchase of the freehold, but he believed the garden was worth a lot more despite the restrictions on its use.
The garden is protected by the Preservation of London Squares Act 1931 and the New River Conservation Area. It cannot be used for anything except as “an ornamental garden pleasure ground or ground for play, rest and recreation”, and no building or other structure can be erected except for the purpose connected with it being a public square. It is difficult to see how it could have any commercial value, but Mr Cooper was convinced that he would be able to get a large sum of money for it. In addition the Council’s current lease is protected by the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act and the landlord would have to demonstrate reasonable grounds for opposition to the granting of a new lease to the Council.
Islington Council’s lease on Myddelton Square gardens runs out in September 2013. Marcus Cooper, the freeholder has refused to renew it. He has sent a brochure to local residents outlining his plans for the development of the gardens asking for their views. (brochure) He is proposing a bowling green and two outdoor gym stations. It is not clear whether or how much he wants to charge for their use.
The Myddelton Square Leaseholder’s Association have set up an informal group “the Myddelton Square Garden’s Group” Their objectives are to facilitate communications and take action concerning the renewal of the lease on the Gardens held by the Council ,and the freeholder’s current proposals for the new facilities in the Gardens
If you wish to be kept abreast of developments in Myddelton Square contact Monica Potts at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be put on Group’s contact list.
Here are some extracts from their second bulletin:
INFORMATION RE THE COUNCIL’S APPLICATION TO RENEW ITS LEASE
* The Council has a legal right to renew its lease save for certain specified circumstances.
* The Council has applied to Mr Cooper for its lease to be renewed due to commence September 2013 under s.24 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.
* Mr Cooper has refused on the basis of “development”, which is one of the specified circumstances.
* Mr Cooper has stated that he wishes to carry out works under s.30 (f) of the 1954 Act. That means he has to establish that he intends to carry out “substantial works of construction”.
* On 13.07.2013 some residents in Myddelton Square received a leaflet from Mr Cooper saying he proposes to install an outdoor gym and two-lane crown bowling facility and a small hut. Presumably this is the ‘works’ he will rely on in order to seek to prevent the Council from renewing its lease.
* The legal team of the Council are currently applying to the court to try and secure a new lease. As yet they have not received a hearing date.
* If there is a dispute in the courts between Mr Cooper and the Council about this, he needs to be able to prove a realistic intention to develop.
* In that regard, his options are severely limited, because he can’t build anything beyond what may be “necessary or convenient” for the use of the gardens “for play rest or recreation”.
* If the Council can’t renew its lease, then their only option to continue with the square in public ownership is through compulsory purchase.
SOME COMMENTS WHICH HAVE BEEN MADE ABOUT THE MARCUS COOPER GROUP PROPOSALS
for a bowling green and out-door gym equipment.
* the gardens are small, the proposals are disproportionate in size
* repair and maintenance and improvement of the existing gardens is a higher priority
* upgrading of the popular children’s playground is a higher priority
* it is a significant change of use of the gardens
* the proposals appear to interfere with statutory rights and public rights of way
* the proposals are not viable, they would not work in this area
* the choice of facilities is random
* no prior survey of local community needs
* it is unlikely that the facilities will be free to the public
* the proposals are a form of manoeuvring by the Marcus Cooper Group
* there would be reduced space for people to congregate, picnic, sit on the grass, rest or play
* there would be reduced area for dogs to exercise
* a storage and maintenance shed could become a target for grafitti and vandalism
* all over the country bowling greens are being phased out of parks
* the proposals sound “wacky”
* an outdoor gym would not be popular; outdoor gyms are faddish, their use is weather dependent
* the Council – Greenspace – has not been informed or consulted
* the essence of the garden is its symmetrical layout, which will be destroyed by these plans
* the gym stations are ugly and out of keeping with the conservation area
* there is confusion about crown bowling (undulating green) and lawn bowling (flat green)
* who on earth is going to use a bowling green? We are not a country village where bowling is part of the culture.
The Myddelton Square Leaseholders’ Association has applied for the Square gardens to be listed as a community asset under the terms of the Localism Act. This means that if the freeholder wishes to sell the gardens he must inform the Association so that they are able to put in a bid for it. It is most unlikely that the Association would be able to find the money for this, but it does prevent the freeholder from selling on the gardens without the knowledge of the community.
The local councillors and Paul Convery, the elected member for Planning and Leisure, organised a public meeting at St Mark’s Church. They explained the situation to the local residents and emphasised the council’s commitment to preserving the square as a public amenity. They believe that they have two options:
To transfer the Square’s freehold ownership to the Council or
To continue the current lease and legally establish their right to make improvements under the terms of the lease.
Islington Council would prefer to renew their lease with the landlord and continue on the same basis as before, but Marcus Cooper has made it clear that this arrangement would not suit him. They would be prepared to go down the route of a compulsory purchase order, but recognise that this is likely to be an expensive and lengthy process.
The works to the square, which were formerly vetoed by the landlord, ie the removal of the hoardings, demolition of the former park-keeper’s shed and removal of the overgrowth, together with making good all the area which was the behind hoardings, have now been completed. The Council have proceeded with caution, but believe that these works were necessary on the grounds of health and safety and to fulfil the terms of their lease. Once the Council feel more assured of their ground they will proceed with the upgrading of the playground.
Councillor Convery informed local residents that the Council has taken legal steps to secure a new lease and if serious obstacles are put in their way they will seek a compulsory purchase order.