Sale of park lodge divides community

Plans by Barnet Council to pay for parks improvements and maintenance from the sale of a park lodge are still undecided after seven years and have divided local residents.

Victoria Park Lodge is now barely visible behind high hedging. Image: Google Maps
Victoria Park Lodge is now barely visible behind high hedging. Image: Google Maps

The local authority is seeking planning permission to build a three-story block of eight flats, with underground parking on the site of Victoria Park Lodge, a two-bedroom detached former park keeper’s lodge located on the periphery of Victoria Park in Finchley, north London.

It and the surrounding Victoria Park Recreation Ground are held in a charitable trust. The land was given to the council in 1900 following public donations to create a park commemorating Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

Under the terms of the trust, the land must be held by the council for public recreational use and the lodge can only be used to house a park keeper.

However Barnet Council decided the lodge was no longer needed for this purpose in the 1980s and used the building as a homeless hostel for 20 years before its disposal was approved by its Cabinet in 2009.  

This triggered a five-year legal delay as council lawyers and the Charity Commission engaged in "significant correspondence" to ensure the sale fitted within the requirements of the Trust and of charity law.

Local resident Mary O’Connor, who started an online petition to urge the council to reverse its decision, said that during this time the council left it empty and so neglected it, leaving it vulnerable to squatters. Barnet Council has not yet given a response to this claim.

By 2014 it was judged that it would cost the council at least £100,000 to bring the lodge up to the decent homes standards and allow it to be used as residential accommodation. A decision was made to sell it but under the terms of the trust the proceeds can only be used on the park itself.

Suggestions for spending the money included replacement of play equipment in the children’s play area and refurbishment of the tennis courts as well as maintenance. 

O’Connor told local paper The Hendon and Finchley Times that the proposal was like a worst nightmare." 

However, of the Etchingham Friends community group told the paper they were happy with the plans, which would allow the park "to move forward".

"The council have found themselves in a hard position for running parks and we have to make the best of a bad situation," he said.

A council spokesperson said: "The Victoria Park Lodge was a Trust property. Full Council, acting as trustee, considered the future of the building at a meeting in November 2014 and approved its disposal.

"Before disposing of the property a number of alternative uses were considered. Any capital receipt generated from the sale of the lodge will be ring-fenced and used exclusively for the benefit of Victoria Park."

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