Community groups have until April 26 to bid to buy the building
Merton Council has refused a pre-election request to stop controversial redevelopment work on Merton Hall in South Wimbledon.
Work began last week to convert the historic building in Kingston Road so it can be used by the Elim Church. In return they will free up their existing building in High Path to help enable a new Harris Academy free school to be built on the site.
But earlier this week Merton Conservatives asked for work to be halted until after the May 3 borough council election.
In a letter to Paul Evans, council Monitoring Officer, Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon and Oonagh Moulton, leader of Merton Conservative Group, stated: "As you are aware, Tuesday 20 March is the start of the official pre-election purdah period and the proposals around Merton Hall have become a topic of significant interest in the campaign.
"Whilst the current administration pursues a policy of demolition and handover of the land to Elim Pentecostal Church, the Merton Conservative Group has adopted a policy which is opposed to any demolition or handover.
"To persist with the works at Merton Hall would be to pre-empt the election result and would contravene the restrictions on local authorities during the immediate run-up to an election by effectively implementing a highly contentious policy during the purdah period.
"If you feel that works should persist during purdah, we shall not hesitate to engage the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government."
But Mr Evans pointed out that the contract for the works was procured and agreed in December 2017 and was subject to scrutiny at a meeting of the Council's 'call in' panel on January 10. Following that decision, he said, the council entered into a contract for works to be carried out to Merton Hall during 2018.
He said: "Given that the decision was made some months ago and the contracural commitment has been properly entered into by the Council, I do not think the pre-election restrictions on publicity of sensitive decision-making apply in this case. It is rather the continuation of a course of action which has already been committed to by the Council and has been subject to the formal checks and balances."
Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond MP and Councillor Oonagh Moulton, leader of Merton Conservatives, said in a statement afterwards: "We are disappointed by Merton Council’s refusal to halt the works at Merton Hall in light of the pre-election ‘purdah’ period and have now written to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government regarding the Council's actions."
Earlier in the year, campaign group, 'The Friends of Merton Hall' has successfully applied for the building to be made an Asset of Community Value (ACV).
Community interest groups now have until April 26 to make a bid to buy the building under ACV regulations.
In a statement Merton Council has previously said: "Harris Wimbledon will open at the former Merton Adult Education Centre on Whatley Avenue taking in 120 pupils in September 2018 and a further 180 the following academic year before moving to its permanent, purpose built site on High Path in 2020.
"The site of the new school is currently occupied by High Path Resource Centre, a former officer building as well as Elim Church, the last piece in the jigsaw to secure the land at High Path. Elim church has now signed a contract to swap their land on High Path for Merton Hall on Kingston Road, owned by the council."
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March 23, 2018