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Historic High Court decision to stop the sale of Southall Town Hall

Mon 24 Sep 2018
Ealing Council have confirmed that they will not be appealing against the decision of the High Court to stop the sale of Southall Town Hall.

In July 2018, the SAVE SOUTHALL TOWN HALL CAMPAIGN won a major victory when Justice McKenna ruled that Ealing Council had acted unlawfully and unreasonably in deciding to sell the Town Hall.

The judge’s written decision has now become available and confirms why he quashed the attempted sale of this iconic public building in west London.

Justice McKenna was ruling on the two grounds of a judicial review lodged by local campaigners in December 2017. In summary, the judge said there was no evidence, on ground one, that Ealing Council’s Cabinet, despite their claims, had even discussed or considered whether they could dispose of the building for less than best consideration. He therefore quashed their decision to sell the building.

Although he did not formally rule on the second ground – whether Ealing had complied with a legal duty to conduct a proper Equality Impact Assessment – he stated that if necessary he would not have hesitated to rule in the claimant’s favour.

The judge was scathing in his general comments about the Council and described the process followed by officers as characterised by 'insufficient investigation, consultation or research'. He said that the council were “grossly deficient”, having “failed to have due regard to their equality duties” and for failing to “consider the effect of the sale to a single faith group”.

Janpal Basran, Manager of Southall Community Alliance said, "Prior to the hearing Council officers had repeatedly refused to disclose relevant documents or provide evidence to support their claims. We are delighted that a High Court judge has agreed that the Council ignored the legitimate concerns of the Southall community. Our campaign has been open, transparent and well informed and this decision caps a great day for all Southall residents who want to preserve our community assets."

The significance of this judgement should not be underestimated. Firstly, it has set a precedent.

Helen Mowatt, solicitor at the Public Interest Law Unit (Lambeth Law Centre) said, "The decision of the High Court makes clear that councils across the UK must place communities they serve at the centre of their decision making. A full sale cannot be conducted where the interests and needs of the community are at stake, rather consideration must be had whether to sell buildings less than the highest price."

"This is a great victory for the claimant, the campaign and for anti austerity campaigners generally as the community value and the use of the building must be properly considered before being sold off to the highest bidder."

Secondly, the fallout of the judgment could be significant. Ealing Borough is one the most diverse in London but the Council’s repeated failure to address equality issues is likely to erode its credibility even further.

Suresh Grover, Chairperson of Save Southall Town Hall Campaign said, "This is second occasion when Ealing has been found wanting on implementing its Equalities duties. In 2008 it was severely criticised by the High Court for cutting the grant of local Black led women’s organisation – the Southall Black Sisters. It seems to have learnt nothing from that period by playing lip service to its legal duties on equalities."

"Will it learn any lessons for this judegment? We hope so. It needs to change its mindset and direction and agree to work with the local community to save the iconic building. Otherwise it lays itself open to be judged by history for being institutionally deficient and discriminatory".

Finally, this historic decision represents the culmination of a mass community campaign to save the iconic Southall Town Hall. The claimant, Mr Mohinder Pal, a member of the IWA (GB) Southall Branch, is a 73 year-old local pensioner with no funds or resources.

He fought an epic battle – resembling David versus Goliath – and won. Mr Pal is a user of the building and member of the Southall Community Alliance, a key local group based in the Town Hall.

The SAVE SOUTHALL TOWN HALL CAMPAIGN will next arrange a public meeting in Southall, towards the end of October, about the future of the Town Hall and disposal of community assets.

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