The campaign to stop privatisation of social housing in Haringey is a prominent example of effective grassroots resistance to council-backed social cleansing explains Isabel Carr
The Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) has no explicit target for social housing. If anyone is new to this story, or still in any kind of doubt about the nature of the enterprise, it helps to keep that fact at the forefront of your mind.
The London Borough of Haringey has a council housing waiting list of c.9,000, an average borough house price of c.£465,000, and has seen a 40% cut to council funding from central government. So far - so austerity.
The Labour-controlled Haringey Council, under the leadership of Claire Kober, have responded to the attacks on social housing provision and support not with a strong Movement stance against Tory cuts - clearly driven by a desire to protect the welfare and communities of its residents - but with the now-infamous large-scale privatisation of the ‘Haringey Development Vehicle’ (HDV).
What Kober and the HDV reckoned without, however, was the strength and resourcefulness of the residents whose homes and communities they would destroy. Those communities are standing their ground and hitting back hard - responding with the impressively effective Stop HDV campaign.
The real lesson of this ongoing story is in the grassroots resistance.
HDV and‘Zombie Blairite’ councils
HDV is the largest, most blatant, move towards social cleansing attempted by a Labour-run council. Described as ‘breath-taking in its risks’, there has never been a project of this kind with a bigger planned transfer of assets from council to private developer.
Both what it is, and how it’s being done, are a disgrace.
A joint venture between Haringey Council and private developer Lendlease, the HDV would create a private company to ‘regenerate the area’ over 25 years. This £2 billion deal would see the council provide public assets - including housing estates, schools, public facilities and private housing acquired through compulsory purchase orders - to the developer, who would then demolish buildings and build 6,400 new build homes, the vast majority to be sold on the open market. There’s a 50:50 ‘partnership’ element between developer and council - a veneer of 'democratic accountability’ - and there’s a quota of ‘affordable’ housing. Pro-HDV elements have been keen to emphasise that every secure tenant, housing association tenant and council leasehold tenant will have right of return; but what the HDV business plan actually prioritises is a ‘single move’ for tenants - one of its many get-out clauses.
And Lendlease have form in this regard. They are Southwark Council’s partner for ‘regeneration’ in Elephant & Castle. In terms of social and even ‘affordable’ housing that’s not gone well, with local papers recently reporting that ‘a damning investigation has revealed that a global property firm [Lendlease] made tens of millions in profits from selling 282 luxury homes in Elephant and Castle, with zero affordable housing’.
The HDV has now well and truly lifted the lid on how ‘zombie Blairite’ councils operate - where they stand, what their goals are, and whose interests they prioritise. Despite operating under the banner of ‘Labour’ the contrast with the values of the Labour Movement and the current Labour leadership could not be starker.
Under the current Haringey Council leadership HDV’s progress to-date shows:
- A Labour Council responding to savage attacks on social housing capacity with privatisation.
- A Labour Council failing to undertake any meaningful consultation with residents and communities ahead of life-changing alteration to their way of living.
- A Labour Council failing to demonstrate appropriate project scrutiny - twice ignoring their Council’s own cross-party Housing & Regeneration Scrutiny Panel’s calls to halt proceedings in order to adequately scrutinise the plan due to the ‘sheer size and scale of the risk’.
- A Labour Council failing to show adequate transparency in a procurement process that saw them wined and dined at international property market events, and at home by property PR firm Terrapin - Lendlease have been a client of Terrapin’s.
- A Labour Council creating an apparently unaccountable ‘shadow’ council committee to progress HDV, unbeknown to many of their own backbench councillors let alone residents.
Haringey Council approval to proceed with the HDV and Lendlease was sought in July and, in a further display of contempt for process and for their own residents, Kober et al released project documentation of c.1,500 pages five working days before the Council met to make their formal decision. That’s five working days to read, digest, analyse and draft any effective opposition to, a document the size of War & Peace.
The plan was approved by the council in July 2017.
Stop HDV and the Judicial Review
The Stop HDV campaign formed in response to the sheer scale of the planned works and their social consequences, and the catastrophic lack of consultation and transparency around the process.
Made up of local residents and small business owners, it is supported by both constituency Labour Parties and the two MPs, by the Lib Dem and Green Parties, the tenants and residents federation, trades unions, and many affiliated campaigns and individuals. Organising to build support and visibility on and off social media, the campaign demands answers to fundamental questions on HDV consultation and finances.
Once the July 2017 council meeting approved the HDV plan, things shifted up a gear. Campaigners refused to accept this railroading, and lone retired health and social development consultant Gordon Peters stepped-up and took the case to Judicial Review, against multi-national property giant Lendlease and the Council. The campaign successfully crowdfunded its legal costs, and the Review was heard on 25th and 26th October at the Royal Courts of Justice.
The challenge expressed:
‘widespread concern with the HDV model and its governance arrangements... [the] lack of consultation, loss of democratic control over the homes and other public assets involved, and the Council’s failure to ensure that the HDV will comply in future with obligations such as the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty’.
As Peters says, it has ramifications far beyond Haringey regarding the ways in which social housing and truly affordable housing are being ‘squeezed out by corporate actions in collusion with councils’ – many of them Labour.
The Review’s results should be known early in the year.
Haringey Council Elections — May 2018
The selection process for next May’s Haringey Council elections has seen widespread community anger reflected in a complete overturning of the balance between pro- and anti-HDV candidates across Haringey.
This is the result of natural deselection based on well-understood community concerns, and a welcome concrete move away from ‘zombie Blairite’ politics and back towards Labour Movement values.
At the start of this process there were 29 Labour Councillors for the HDV and 21 against - that has now changed to 12 for and 45 against. Some pro-HDV councillors had stood down when they saw their deselection was imminent.
At least one mainstream Labour councillor plainly disillusioned by the whole debacle, also stood down. Councillor Stuart McNamara’s exit letter is, at several pages, still something of a model of restraint. Despite being described as ‘not a leftie’, McNamara sketches from within the Labour Party itself, the catastrophic political decay - epitomised by Haringey’s ‘zombie Blairites’ - that is even now only beginning to be supplanted by the resurgence of what might at last be reasonably described as the political voice of the party of Labour.
Amongst other things, McNamara is clear on Kober’s behaviour and on where the now-declining forces of New Labour have stood in relation to the Tory Austerity programme:
‘Somebody has to call you [Kober] out on your wrecking ball tactics and horrific wasting of public money on nonsense vanity projects whilst council services are starved of cash or sold off to the lowest bidder, making horrendous Tory government cuts even worse. This government and its behaviour towards the most vulnerable in our society is an absolute scandal; I am not suggesting they are not the core cause of the council’s financial predicament, rather that your ideological determination to pursue out-dated and maverick policies, whilst losing sight completely of the Labour values we are supposed to stand for, has made a very bad situation immeasurably worse’.
The party of Labour – a Corbyn-McDonnell Government and the future of social housing
And all of this is taking place within a rapidly developing political context.
In September 2017 at the Labour Party Conference, Jeremy Corbyn declared a two-fold intention that - when implemented - will remove the conditions for a proposal like the HDV to move forward. He stated that his government will compel councils to ballot all tenants and leaseholders before any regeneration, and that all tenants on a redeveloped site will be entitled to move back to the same estate, with the same terms and conditions.
Because the kind of life-changing injury to social housing communities planned by Kober in Haringey is taking place now, right across the country, in a way under-reported and rarely joined-up in the mainstream media. For an insight into the scale of activity see the film Dispossession.
Mainstream media and the ‘spectre’ of Momentum
Of course the Tory and Establishment press are already using Stop HDV as a scaremongering tactic to undermine an incoming Corbyn/McDonnell government – already pedalling this as the work of sinister ‘loony-left’ Corbynistas, and of Momentum who, whilst supportive, have not been central to the campaign.
The portrayal of Momentum as prime movers in Stop HDV performs the double function of attacking Corbyn’s leadership and setting it up for further attacks after the council elections in May – whilst also obscuring the true strength and power of grassroots community organisation, as both an example and an inspiration, from wider view.
As Stop HDV campaigner Phil Jackson says:
‘this has never been about Momentum, the actual story is vastly more powerful than that, it is about a community who fought a multinational land grabber to its knees, using no outside expert help, no lobbyists, just the guts and the skills that already live here’.
Resisting social cleansing
The results of the Judicial Review, and of the council elections in May, are yet to come. But already the story of the HDV is a powerful analogue for the grassroots fightback against an Establishment and political structure whose values and organisation are fundamentally predicated on the interests of capital and property. A structural context where otherwise decent, compassionate, people give their apparently unthinking agreement to the idea that we ‘must’ demolish homes like these to make council budgets entirely enslaved to the Tory government’s austerity agenda balance.
But the fact that they are homes - people’s homes - should be the primary consideration; should underpin the way in which our entire approach is designed and structured. And it so manifestly did not. In a Labour-controlled council, here as in so many other places, it did not.
The system that is trying to sweep these communities away cannot be reasoned with to change its fundamental course, cannot truly compromise or come to anything more than a temporary cessation of fire. Because it exists to do this. Stop HDV is now a prominent visible example of effective grassroots resistance to council-backed social cleansing - resistance which is happening in communities everywhere right now.
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