Clerkenwell’s Masonic Centre tonight failed in its bid for a much-extended alcohol and late-night refreshment licence. Islington Council’s Licensing Committee decisively rejected its application.
The Masons have sold the Sessions House for £6.5M to a company controlled by a businessman who wishes to run it as an invitation-only private members’ club, with a business in private events and parties, conferences etc, to be known as “Clerkenwell House.” It would not be a night club and there would be no dancing or instant admission.
Virtually no details of the nature or operation of this proposed Club had emerged prior to the hearing, but a brochure was passed round, not previously seen by anyone, giving the proposed “rules” of the club.
The Masons claimed that the Club would be an upmarket one, reflecting the steadily upward trend of the area, and that there would be little obvious change from the current operation of the Centre, but objectors – present in force – asked what sort of Club, conference or private hire centre would need a 67% increase in alcohol sales hours, until 6.00am? How intensive would the use of the building need to be to service the £6.5M purchase price, plus the stated further £4M in repair costs? How would the rules of the Club be enforced, in particular, against private party-goers attending events in the building? “Up-market” status was no guarantee of moderate behaviour.
Sadly, there were no answers - because the application was being made by the Masons, who are moving out, and not by the as-yet undisclosed buyer, who, despite investing heavily in the project, had not so far consulted with anyone locally about his plans, and was not present to answer the many questions local residents had. Why was this? The Masons weren’t saying.
Residents stressed that they accepted that the Sessions House – as one of Clerkenwell’s landmark buildings – needed to be safeguarded by having an economic use, but not at the cost of reintroducing problems previously associated with Turnmills, Ghost, Dust and Murphi’s – some of which continue to be caused by other nearby premises.
It is not clear what the Masons will do next. They can appeal to the Magistrates, but it seems to me that a far better course would be for the new owner to introduce himself to the community, consult widely on his proposals, and then make a new application on which he can answer the resulting questions.