Three years on from the initial proposal that 28 Deptford High Street (the former Law Centre) should be refurbished and made available for 'community use', prospective tenants are being given just a few weeks to put forward business plans and bid to take over the space.
The funding which has been used to refurbish the shop has come via a rather convoluted route from the Outer London Fund money that was awarded for improvements to the south end of the high street five years ago.
Although the high street refurbishment works and repaving were finished some years back, the cost of the work was less than had originally been predicted, and the council applied to redirect the remaining GLA grant money for other uses in Deptford, rather than having to hand it back.
The first proposal was to fund the relocation of the train carriage cafe which was removed when work on the Deptford Project carriage ramp began. (If the train carriage cafe is before your time, just keep your eyes peeled and you'll be sure to see it mentioned in some developer's Deptford-is-so-cool puff piece within a few weeks...)
The option of redeploying the train carriage in Douglas Way next to the Albany was explored, but this fell through and the money was subsequently redirected to 28 Deptford High Street.
The building is owned by Lewisham Council and has been closed for umpteen years now. As well as bringing the ground floor shop unit back into use, the council proposed to convert the upper floors into self-contained flats that could be rented out.
The shop would be let at a peppercorn rent for a set number of years to a tenant who would 'continue the work to animate the high street through a programme of changing offers in the shop'.
That plan was originally mooted in 2014. Since then, the shop has lain empty, despite being advertised for rent in 2015. Enquiries by local artists wanting to use it to display their work during Deptford X were thwarted by council red tape and demands for unreasonable rent, suggesting that the desire to 'animate the high street' was not a serious one.
Fast forward to 2017 and all of a sudden there's a sense of urgency with the council looking for 'social entrepreneurs, community and cultural organisations' to take on a short-term lease in the shop.
Potential bidders are being given just a month to draft and submit expressions of interest - although you don't even get to see inside the shop until ten days before the deadline, and viewings are by appointment on two specific days only.
There's a lot of work to do for the first phase, including business plan, budget, details of tenant team staff, etc and if you get shortlisted, you'll be expected to have your detailed submission ready within 12 days of being notified. There is an unholy urgency going on to get someone in there that belies the past three years' sloth. I very much doubt that community or cultural organisations have the resources to come up with detailed submissions that meet these criteria at the drop of a hat, often being staffed by volunteers who do it in their spare time. Even social entrepreneurs may struggle if they are small organisations that already have a full workload - and will they want to take on another commitment in any case?
It's down to the bidder to suggest what rent they are prepared to pay, so business plans will need to be realistic and thoroughly researched rather than 'back of the fag packet' style.
The expression of interest form states that the council is not looking simply at income - they aren't necessarily going for highest bid. But it's questionable whether they will get a the range of offers they would like, if they are wedded to such a short timescale.