Cheeky Nando’s

8 Oct

Canning Town library

Newham council’s local development committee is the unlikely focus of controversy, as it considers an application for change of use for the old Canning Town library. If the change is agreed the ground floor of the historic building will be converted to into a Nando’s restaurant.

The proposal is controversial because campaigners claim that the building once hosted speeches by the like of Keir Hardie and Sylvia Pankhurst and gave birth to the GMB, one of Britain’s biggest trade unions. In fact, that all happened next door, in the old public hall which is now occupied by Community Links.

The proposal has been denounced on social media by councillors, local Labour members and residents. The Evening Standard picked up the story and even the Morning Star has chipped in:

“This bird-brained move by Newham Council shows an utter disregard for East London’s proud history,” GMB regional secretary Warren Kenny said.

“GMB understands local authorities have been driven to the wall by the Conservatives’ austerity project.

“But we had been in talks with Newham about turning the library into a learning space – which GMB would have had offices in.

“Instead they’ve chosen to feather their own nest and allow GMB’s birthplace to become yet another chicken shop.”

The local Labour Party in Canning Town North argued the library in Barking Road should remain open to the public due to its historical importance.

A Labour spokesman said: “The library is a Grade II listed building has been owned by the council and used as a public library since around 1894.

“We aren’t against Nando’s as such; we simply believe that the proposal is in the wrong place and should be in empty properties. It would enable the old library to continue with its original function of serving the public.”

The Newham Recorder reports that the mayor has been surprised by the proposals

Ms Fiaz [asked] why no GMB councillors approached her about the issue when she was elected in May. The mayor, who is also a GMB member, said she only found out about the proposals in an article published last week.

So how did we get to this point?

Newham council decided way back in April 2011 to move the library into a new ‘community hub’ space within the Rathbone Market development. The minutes of the cabinet meeting record a decision

to make an allocation within the capital programme for the purchase of the space from the developer, for the fit out of the whole 12,000 sq ft of space and for fixtures, fittings and equipment for the new Library Plus service operated by Customer Services.

They go on to note that

Councillor Furness said that this was warmly welcomed by local ward Members.

Then councillor, now London Assembly member, and GMB stalwart Unmesh Desai was at the meeting, as was Lester Hudson. Did no-one realise that moving the Library out would leave the building vacant and in need of an alternative tenant?

The change of use for the Rathbone Market building to a library was formally agreed in 2016, by the Strategic Development Committee, chaired by councillor Ken Clark.

Subsequently, an external specialist was instructed to market the old library building and find a suitable tenant to take a lease on commercial terms with a use that would provide an income stream for the Council and provide vitality and footfall for the area.

In December 2017 the then-mayor, Sir Robin Wales, received a report on the future of the Canning Town Library building

…which sought approval for the letting of the former Canning Town Library, Barking Road E16.

The former Canning Town Library building was vacated in September 2017 when the services moved to new and improved facilities at Canning Town and Custom House Community Neighbourhood Centre.

A number of restaurant and bar chains had expressed an interest, but Nando’s was the preferred bidder, “reflecting a strong covenant with a community use.”

The report identified number of benefits, in addition to the significant commercial revenue

[Nando’s] propose to make Canning Town the London hub for their project to help the UK emerging creative community as they feel this is a place where they can really make a difference. Their own research concludes that young creatives need access to resources, to extend their creative network to reach an audience that will embrace their talents. This is something they think they can help with by providing resources, skills and experience they need. It is the intention of the prospective tenant to make part of the property available for community activity in a way that they have already delivered on other restaurant sites

Sir Robin approved the recommendation. It was also agreed that

the Director of Asset Management, in consultation with the Mayoral Advisor for Commercial Property [Cllr Ian Corbett], be authorised to finalise negotiations with regard to the Heads of Terms and to have delegated authority to conclude all matters arising from this decision.

Among those present were Canning Town councillor Ann Easter, as well as Ayesha Chowdhury, Lester Hudson, Mas Patel and Quintin Peppiatt. They, along with Ken Clark and Unmesh Desai, are all now signatories to an open letter calling for Nando’s application to be rejected!

The commercial letting of the Library building hasn’t appeared out of nowhere  – it was literally years in making. Relocating the library inevitably required a new tenant be found for the old building. If Nando’s make good on their promises to build a hub for the creative community that will be a huge benefit to Canning Town.

And it ill-befits people who have been party to the decisions that got us here to be complaining now about the proposal and its supposed lack of sensitivity to Labour history. Especially as none of that history happened in the library.

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10 Responses to “Cheeky Nando’s”

  1. Bob Smith October 8, 2018 at 17:13 #

    I saw this on a local Facebook site last night and I was amazed at the way in which the poster was trying to whip up feeling against the proposal by simply referring to it as a ‘chicken shop taking over the building’. When I asked for details of the application I was simply referred to the LBN planning site. I quickly looked through the application to see that it was a restaurant chain making the application, not a greasy takeaway. I also could see that this proposal had been around for some years and had been changed a few times taking in comments from bodies such as Historic England. The poster was trying to get people to join his protest FB group – membership 39 so not much support there. However, the click bait worked with some members of Newham History decrying the ‘chicken shop’ proposal even though they had not read the actual application. This is dog whistle campaigning at its worst. I challenged the use of the pejorative ‘chicken shop’ and the posters response was ‘that was what local people called it’. Quite pathetic and desperate. Officers have recommended the plans are passed. If councillors refuse to, then I hope they explain how the building can be used and what the costed alternatives are. The area needs regeneration and if Nando’s can be a positive part of that process then the plans should be welcome. As to the GMB being founded there etc, perhaps they would like to make a counter offer and move their HQ there. Thought not.

    • Anon October 10, 2018 at 01:21 #

      It is no wonder Newham is a terrible place to live, if people support such terrible proposals.

      Nandos is an awful chain restaurant, with a terrible menu.

      Only Newham Council would do this to us, because they don’t want regeneration of the area. They want to degrade the area, so that it remains a Labour borough.

      Newham is in desperate need of good restaurants. I find it frustrating, I have to travel to Central London, to enjoy great cuisine.

      If I had heard a reputable restaurant was opening, I would have been delighted.

      As a personal recommendation, I would have liked Newham to invite ‘Pho’ to open a branch. They have mouth watering Vietnamese food. We are lucky to have a branch in Westfield Stratford.

      My feeling is Newham is asking for too much money and has such we have ended up with Nandos as the only contender.

      • Bob smith October 10, 2018 at 10:36 #

        Your comment shows little understanding of how business works. LBN can’t just invite a restaurant or chain to open an outlet. Your comment is also rather patronising to the thousands of people who enjoy Nando’s. You might not like it, and neither do I, but many do and it would seem as if the company is prepared to invest in the building and the area. Would I like the building used for something else? That is a resounding yes but I can only repeat that there have been no costed or realistic proposals put forward in the 6 or 7 years this has been developing. I would be more impressed with the protests if they had realistic alternatives that can be afforded. The councillors who are now having second thoughts seem to be jumping on a very shaky bandwagon for political gain. The risk is that if this does not go ahead, Nando’s will walk and others will see the way in which they have been encouraged to amend their bid, no doubt at great cost, and then have the rules changed. No one running a business would want to be involved and the building will remain empty at great cost to LBN. I have no doubt the original decision was wrong but the time to oppose it was years ago.

      • Anon October 11, 2018 at 15:09 #

        >> LBN can’t just invite a restaurant or chain to open an outlet.

        LBN can do anything when it suits them, such as inviting casinos, spending money on London Pleasure Gardens and handing over millions for the Olympic Stadium, setting up lending firms…

        Newham should have been more discerning over the use of their own building.

        They are happy to block people who set up chicken shops and betting shops, but when it comes to their own property, they are happy to ignore rules they have set for others.

        In my view, this is a test for the new Mayor, whether she wants to make Newham a better borough.

        IN Canning Town, there is already double front shop occupied by KFC. There is a Subway and McDonalds. The demand for fried burger and wraps is well covered.

        >> Nando’s will walk and others will see the way in which they have been encouraged to amend their bid, no doubt at great cost, and then have the rules changed.

        That would be Nando’s fault, for having an awful menu. We need high quality jobs in Newham, not burger flippers.

        In 2014, the Guardian reported Nandos have ‘legally’ reduced UK corporation tax bill by a third.

        Source: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jul/10/nandos-using-secretive-tax-haven-trust-avoid-inheritance-tax-bills

  2. marietaevans October 8, 2018 at 18:17 #

    Less than 2 weeks ago at the History Club that Gareth (aka Benjamin Evans, who is also the chair of the newham libdems and their mayoral candidate last May) & I run as volunteers we dedicated the meeting to the life and work of Lewis Angell (thanks to a presentation by our superb speaker John Plant). Because of the symbology of what that building represents for Newham Heritage I do not think that a chicken restaurant is the best use for it. This might be just my opinion, but one thing is true: my opposing to it has nothing to do with its connection with the Labour Party history so I would really, really wish this did not end up being yet another example of everythign in newham being about Labour and Labour people will fix it, because there are a lot of NON Labour volunteers & residents in Newham campaigning for issues who are a bit fed up of Labour overtaking everything and taking all the credit and headlines

    • Bob smith October 8, 2018 at 19:29 #

      I agree with your sentiments but in the absence of other proposals Nando’s is the only option. It would seem that they are willing to make a substantial investment and their presence is surely better than an empty building. I have seen lots of suggestions as to what it could be instead but no suggestions as to how any of them could be achieved or how suggestions like a museum would be funded.

      • Anon October 10, 2018 at 01:27 #

        >> I agree with your sentiments but in the absence of other proposals Nando’s is the only option.

        That is another failure of Newham. Why can’t it attract high quality alternatives?

        If Nandos, gets the site, they will be there a long time.

  3. urriti October 8, 2018 at 22:02 #

    Perhaps another bit of ‘wales’ legacy, and proberly much more to come.

  4. Quantum newham October 9, 2018 at 21:37 #

    I see you have forgotten to mention that rokhsana fiaz also was at the strategic development meeting where she moved it!

    • Martin Warne October 10, 2018 at 08:02 #

      Yes, that’s right. She moved the proposal for a change of use on the new Rathbone Market property to allow it to become the community hub and library.

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