The Haringey Development Vehicle – a Triumph of Local Democracy against Gentrification

Following the resignation of Claire Kober, the beleaguered Labour leader of Haringey Council, the controversial Haringey Development Vehicle – or HDV – looks set to be dead and buried. But was the anti-HDV campaign really propelled by the so-called “hard-left”, or was it local residents taking a stand in their community? DMU postgraduate student Ryan Farrell’s blog on this issue is based on his essay written for the “Democratising Urban Spaces” module, as part of his MA in Politics at DMU.

The halting of the Haringey Development Vehicle was a triumph of local democracy and accountability by local residents against a council that doggedly pursued a public-private partnership with an international property developer. The Labour-led council in the North London Borough of Haringey was planning to form a joint venture with Lend Lease that would have involved privatising vast swaths of public property – including municipal assets like libraries and schools – and transferring it into a £2bn private fund. The council boasted of the creation of a new town centre, 5,000 new homes, and thousands of jobs for local residents over a 15-20 year period. So why, then, were local residents so overwhelmingly against the proposals?

There is no doubt that London is in the grip of a major housing crisis, and one that needs to be dealt with fast; it has economic impacts, such as decreased productivity, as well as social ones, like rising poverty, inequality, homelessness and rough sleeping. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said that City Hall needs to build 66,000 homes a year in order to deal with the needs of London’s housing crisis, with 65% of these needing to be affordable. Across England, the number of rough sleepers has more than doubled since the Conservative-led coalition came into power in 2010, rising year on year. Official government data shows that rough sleeping across England has risen for the past six years in a row. In London, the pattern has been the same – there were 3,975 people sleeping rough in 2010-11, and more than 8,000 in 2015-16. Clearly, then, something radical needs to be done.

The term “regeneration” is a particularly emotive one, and is often seen as merely a coded way of saying “gentrification”. That is, redeveloping land and pricing residents out of communities. But few urban regeneration projects in recent years have attracted the level of attention the Haringey Development Vehicle has. The London Borough of Haringey has a population of approximately 270,000, and is highly socio-economically diverse. Highgate in the West of the borough is one of the city’s most affluent areas, while conversely, Tottenham, located in the East, is increasingly deprived. It was here that the 2011 riots were sparked, after local Tottenham resident Mark Duggan was shot dead by police.

The council had a sound case for swift, decisive action, with a social housing waiting list exceeding 9,000, and first-time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder, with modest one bed properties selling for upwards of £400,000. The then-leader of the council, Claire Kober, spoke of the challenge to “find new and different ways to generate income” back in late 2014. Tensions have been fraught between the Labour-led Haringey council and the Parliamentary Labour Party, including from the area’s two MPs, David Lammy and Catherine West. In an open letter, the two local members of parliament citied concerns regarding the affordability of the home that the HDV project will offer, and the lack of transparency and consultation with local residents. Seen as a dig at the proposed scheme, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the 2017 party conference alluded to “forced gentrification and social cleansing”. Local residents and business owners set up the Stop HDV project to raise awareness of the council’s plans, in an effort to mobilise opposition to the scheme.

The HDV scheme is now all but defeated. Haringey’s Labour Manifesto pledged to stop the controversial scheme, and a final decision will be taken in July. The push back against an unpopular “regeneration” scheme has been labelled as a “systematic takeover” by the “hard left” – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, it was local people who stopped the redevelopment project, not a select few with political agendas. Residents from all – and no – parties participated in demonstrations, lobbied their local MPs, and voiced their concerns to local councillors. Crowdfunded by local residents, 73-year-old resident Gordon Peters requested a judicial review into the HDV – which was subsequently won by the council. The council persevered, even when its own scrutiny committee advised the scheme be halted. Claire Kober resigned from her position as leader of the council in February, amid claims of sexism and bullying.

After sustained action on a local level by the residents of Haringey, including the borough’s two constituency Labour parties, the two local Labour MPs, the grassroots campaign group Momentum, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and people who had never been involved in politics in their lives, the HDV scheme now looks doomed to fail. Councillors who supported the scheme were either deselected by local party members and replaced with anti-HDV candidates, or pulled out after the first round of voting. The right-wing media attempted to frame this as a “purge”, but it was anything but; this was democracy in action. After the recent local elections on May 3rd, the council is still Labour-run, although the borough elected three new Lib Dem candidates, surely reflecting the anger towards the HDV scheme. Claire Kober, the council’s former leader, now works as Director of Housing at Pinnacle, a property management firm.

So what implications, then, does the HDV phenomenon have for democratising urban spaces, and if public-private partnerships aren’t the solution to the capital’s burgeoning housing crisis, what is? One approach that truly involves local residents is community land trusts. In 2015, the NHS announced the sale of two-thirds of land – 7.1 hectares –  from the site of the St Ann’s Hospital in Haringey. Planning permission was granted for 470 homes, with 14% “affordable” (defined as 80% of market value); none were designated for social tenants. The St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust (StART), a community land trust that pre-dates the HDV debacle, was set up by local residents to fight the plans. The 360-strong membership meet regularly to discuss the priorities, which reach far beyond the call for genuinely affordable housing – StART also want to maintain the natural environmental beauty of the area, and ensure the continuation of mental health services on the site. The best hope, StART believed, was to persuade the Greater London Authority (GLA) to purchase the land, keeping it in public ownership and ensuring any homes built are genuinely affordable. StART’s negotiations were a triumphant success, with Mayor Sadiq Khan purchasing the site, using the new £250 million Land Fund for the first time. The deal will see up to 800 new homes built, with at least 50% being affordable – a significant increase on the existing planning permission for the site. Revenue raised from selling the land to housing associations, councils and community land trusts will be reinvested into the Land Fund to purchase further sites in London. StART’s membership is growing, and the trust is aiming to raise £50 million in order to maximise the number of genuinely affordable homes. The potential of community land trusts and community-led development is endless, and as demonstrated by StART, extends far beyond the issue of housing.

Ryan Farrell is a postgraduate student studying for an MA in Politics at DMU, where he also completed an undergraduate degree in History and Politics. His academic interests include trade unionism and grassroots labour movements, Marxism, environmentalism and nationalism.

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