Haringey, North London – the Front Line Against Gentrification.

Haringey council, a Labour stronghold in north London is planning to sell off huge swathes of council land and property to private developers. This will lead to a massive wave of social and ethnic cleansing. Phil Buyum Jackson outlines what is at stake, as well as the growing resistance 

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Haringey Council, a Labour council is now at the forefront of the largest proposed sell-off of council land, council housing, business properties etc in the country. We are also on the verge of potentially seeing the largest wave of social and ethnic cleansing so far.

What began as a little known and seemingly technical process for “redevelopment” and “regeneration”, has through the work of Haringey Defend Council Housing along with a small number of left wing councillors, escalated into a confrontation that pits the community, tenant groups, the left and the local Labour Parties in Tottenham and, Hornsey and Wood Green – against a Labour council, led by the old guard right.

At the heart of the confrontation is something called the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), a proposed new corporation which would be run 50/50 between representatives appointed by Haringey and representatives picked by the chosen developer.

Under this scheme the Council would transfer, lock stock and barrel over 2 billion pounds worth of council housing, land, commercial property and assets including a local school, library, health centre to the joint venture. The Council would essentially hand over public land and public housing on a massive scale to the developer. The chosen developer, using these assets, would then essentially raise debt to pay for their demolition and the complete rebuilding of the area. Just a few of what is a massive list of properties to be handed over includes – Northumberland Park estate with approximately 1,300 council homes and Broadwater Farm estate.

Broadwater Farm alone houses approximately 4,000 people on one of the most ethnically diverse estates in the country, and one, which despite its depiction in the right wing press has one of the lowest crime rates of any major urban centre.

Both these estates and more are on the list to be demolished under the HDV scheme and rebuilt on a commercial basis, with a proportion of so-called ‘affordable’ housing. 500 commercial spaces including local shops and Wood Green shopping centre are to be turned over too.

The Council claims, this move is essential as it lacks the expertise and financing to redevelop the area. This is a council that has refused to increase its local taxes for year after year after year. While the central government imposed cuts have bitten hard on local councils and the demand for housing is immense, there are approximately 8,000 people on the waiting list – what is proposed is no solution, in fact it is much, much worse than that.

What is at risk is a massive loss of council housing and property replaced by commercial development. The right wing councillors leading the push for the redevelopment are notorious in the area for a long list of dinners with developers in Cannes and elsewhere. In fact the scheme itself was announced at a MIPIM conference in Cannes. The councillors have both stated that it is their “aim” that people living in these communities will be allowed to return to new homes at their current rent and (and it depends on the day), that communities will be offered “affordable” housing. These alternatives are not the same. As we all know, so called “affordable” homes, when set at 80% of market rate are simply not affordable. To date the council have given no answer on this massively important distinction.

Secondly are all the people to be “decanted” from Northumberland Park to be offered housing on the same terms within Haringey, as certain councilors have said? Where are those homes? They simply do not exist. If they do where in Haringey are they?

Ironically the original council position stated as recently as September 2016 on refusing to accept Syrian refugees was that there were no available homes for Syrian Refugees and the funding was insufficient. Yet NOW we are being told that 1,300 people can be rehoused while their estate is demolished – while we already have massive waiting lists. Community activists believe that people will be dispersed across the country, communities broken apart and any residual rent protection if it transpires will not go beyond the tenure of current occupants, thereby gradually decimating the stock of actually affordable homes.

Not only is this decimation on housing terms, it is going to hit, as the councils own assessment on an earlier proposal stated, the poorer non-white population of Haringey most as the assessment stated “the White community is least impacted by these proposals”.

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Perhaps one of the most infuriating aspects of the current process has been the lack of any proper consultation on the proposed scheme. Numerous people on Northumberland Park and Broadwater Farm were simply unaware that the scheme was planned. Cllr Strickland has stated on London Radio that “Staff have been knocking on doors, we have had fun days on the estates”. FUN DAYS. What consultation has happened has centred on asking residents if they want improvements in their estate, would they like a new house – unsurprisingly, many people would like improvements. What people have NOT been asked is do you want your community demolished, do you want to be decanted to god knows where? This is not community control or even consultation.

Haringey Defend Council Housing were probably the first to grasp the sheer scale of what was being proposed and deserve full credit for early mobilisations late last year, in parallel, a relatively obscure committee of council, the Scrutiny Committee – had been examining this process for several months and, led by a couple of left councilors ended up issuing a report into similar failed schemes on a much smaller scale in other parts of the UK. The scrutiny committee called for a unanimous halt until all risks were understood. Opponents of the HDV went to support this committee, first with 20 odd people, next with a demonstration of 160 people. Gradually knowledge of the scheme spread, into community and tenant organisations and into Labour branches and Momentum – which are vastly to the left of the council. Emergency motions were passed in the General Councils of both the Tottenham and Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party – these are the highest decision making body of Haringey Labour. Tottenham voted 57-5 for a halt to the HDV, Hornsey and Wood Green had a closer vote but also called for a halt. This has resulted in a Labour Council which is now formally at odds with its own party at the local level. Meanwhile, public meetings, including an absolutely packed Momemtum meeting of around 100 people prepared to mobilise. Rather amazingly, this had seen the left in Haringey come together in a remarkable way, the Haringey Momentum meeting was probably the only one in the country that did NOT discuss Momentum, but instead had a three hour meeting on mobilizing against the HDV. This is healthy. At the council level, the Labour Group of councillors met recently to vote on the HDV and the scrutiny committee report – the vote, which had clearly been whipped – was 29 councillors in favour and 18 against. Given the prior number of councillors opposing was probably half that, the revolt within the council itself had clearly grown. Increasing numbers of unions in the area have begun to exert pressure, issuing their own statements against the scheme and assisting with mobilisation.

We are now at a critical juncture. The Cabinet of Council meets to choose a “Preferred Bidder” a private developer to partner with on February 14th. This is the next stage of the fight. In advance, fact sheets, leaflets, posters and speaking points are being prepared to build on the resistance so far. A mass meeting had been called for February 13th specifically on the HDV.

PUBLIC MEETING: Feb 13th 7pm -9pm, Wood Green Community Centre.

MARCH & RALLY: Feb 14th Assemble Duckett’s Common, Wood Green 5pm. Rally at Haringey Civic Centre 6pm

This is the next stage of what could be a long fight. The meeting on the 14th is to choose the bidder to negotiate with, the actual contract itself probably wont be agreed to until late summer or autumn – and so this is one stage in the battle, but it is critical that there is a show of force NOW. Our resistance so far has significantly increased awareness of the project and increased the opposition in the council – we need to build on this, with tenant groups, with unions, this is not just about Haringey – this is about all of London. Join us and draw a line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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