Extraordinary land row could force Finsbury nursery into closure
Concerned parents speak out as Town Hall is embroiled in site ownership dispute with administrators for East West Community Nursery
17 March, 2017 — By Joe Cooper
Children enjoying a fundraising event at Finsbury-based East West Community Nursery last year
CHILDREN are caught up in the middle of a battle between a nursery and the Town Hall over who owns a highly valuable patch of land in Finsbury.
A court case is looming after administrators for East West Community Nursery staked a claim to the site in Mitchell Street – a claim Islington Council strongly refutes.
The Town Hall own the land but the nursery has been there rent-free for more than 25 years, which administrators say allows them to claim adverse possession – something similar to squatters’ rights.
The council want to redevelop the site for social housing and community facilities but have not offered a guarantee to East West that they will have a new home. The administrators and their partners – developers Bliss Space – have said they could use the land for residential or commercial use, but say they are “saving” the nursery and will “guarantee” a new home for East West, rent free.
In a strongly worded reply to their claims, a council spokesman said: “Islington Council owns this land, and will robustly resist any attempt by the nursery’s administrators to claim any legal interest in the land.”
The nursery, which is a a charity, now faces closure at the end of next month as the council seek to keep control of the land.
“Largely because of the administrators’ actions so far, the council has had to give the nursery and the administrators a notice terminating their licence,” the Town Hall spokesman said. “The wellbeing of children at East West Community Nursery is paramount, and we will work with parents to support their childcare needs.”
One parent told the Tribune: “This is terrible. Who will look after my child?”
The nursery, which provides high-quality, Montessori-style education cheaply for children aged between two and five, went into administration last summer and David Rubin and Partners were appointed as administrators. The nursery’s debts run to almost £75,000.
They then set about inviting interested parties to develop the land. The council asked the administrators to stop but received no response and Bliss Space were signed up.
The council has a long-held ambition to redevelop the wider St Luke’s area with new council housing, a new leisure centre with four football pitches, a GP practice and an expanded energy centre to provide cheaper, green energy to homes and businesses.
Bliss Space’s Daniel Broch, who was behind the success of Everyman Cinemas, said he became interested in the project as it was a development opportunity with a community element.
“We are coming to this with an open mind,” he said. “We want to sit down with the council and see whether everybody’s objectives could be achieved here.
“What we are offering is a great new facility for East West for many years to come.”
He said they would not be in the current position if the council had offered East West a permanent home in the first place.
“This is a great community resource with a great history which touches a lot of people’s lives. The council shouldn’t have been trying to close it and get rid of it. Why would you do that?”
Asked whether his interest was purely about making a profit, Mr Broch said: “Of course there has to be a commerciality attached for it to be worth it. There is a community angle to this and that is why I got on board. Yes, we will make some money but this is not about pure property speculation. We’re not just here to make a quick buck.”
The council will issue possession proceedings if the administrators do not hand the nursery back.
Administrator Stephen Katz said that the council terminating the nursery’s licence was pointless. “Whether or not the nursery is operating on the site doesn’t actually make any difference to the claim. It is only the children and the parents who will suffer if the council decide to close the nursery.”
Last month the longstanding directors of the nursery resigned en masse. They include Roula Carroll, who organised a fundraiser for the nursery when it first went into administration last year, and headteacher Nadia Mahabir. Attempts by the Tribune to contact Ms Carroll have not been successful.
The council spokesman added: “Design work is well underway for an exciting and ambitious redevelopment of the local area, including this land, to provide badly-needed affordable council homes, a new leisure centre, a GP surgery, and a new nursery.
“We’re preparing to carry out further public consultation on our plans, and are determined that the administrators’ actions will not frustrate our long-held ambitions to improve the local area for the benefit of the local community.”