Tottenham Housing Campaigners Seek a Judicial Review to Save Their Homes from a Rapacious Labour Council and the Predatory Developer Lendlease

26.10.17

Stop HDV campaigners outside the High Court on the first day of the judicial review against the planned Haringey Council/Lendlease £2bn Haringey Development Vehicle.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Yesterday, an important court case began in the High Court in London — an application, by 73-year old Tottenham resident Gordon Peters, for a judicial review of the legality of Haringey Council’s intention to enter into a £2bn partnership with the Australian-based international housing developer Lendlease that is deeply troubling on its own terms, as well as — if it goes ahead — having disturbing ramifications for the future of social housing throughout the entire country.

As Aditya Chakrabortty described Gordon Peters’ claim in a powerful article for the Guardian yesterday, ‘A Labour council attacking its own people? This is regeneration gone bad,’ “Aspects of his claim for a judicial review sound local and technical – but the fight itself is national and totemic. His case is being watched by the construction industry, by councils across the country and by Jeremy Corbyn’s team. Anyone who cares about the future of social housing, or what happens to London, or to local democracy, should root for Peters – not least for his bravery in placing himself squarely before a juggernaut.”

Chakrabortty added, “That juggernaut is the Haringey Development Vehicle, a scheme by the zombie Blairites running the north London borough to shove family homes, school buildings and libraries into a giant private fund worth £2bn. Its partner is the multinational Lendlease, which will now exercise joint control over a large part of Haringey’s housing and regeneration strategy. This is the plan Peters and many others want stopped. The 25-year deal is unprecedented in size and scale. It is breathtaking in its risks. And for many its consequences will be dreadful, including for their relatives and friends.”

Gordon Peters worked as a social services director in London, and “a consultant in health and social development with particular experience in policies aimed at reducing poverty and inequalities, acting for governments in Europe and Asia and with UK donors,” as he explained in a post on the Stop HDV website describing why he is seeking a judicial review. Since this retirement, he explains, he has been “an active member of Haringey Over 50s forum and chair of the Older Peoples Reference Group in the borough.”

As he explained in that article, “The legal argument here is a matter of widespread concern at a lack of accountability and democratic process, and indeed relates to a concern for the fundamental rights of people to a home and support in their community. 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 councils, as the record of Lendlease in Southwark [currently creating an ugly private complex, Elephant Park, on the site of the Heygate council estate] shows all too dramatically. All evidence to date points to a further loss of homes for poorer people and an influx of better off rented and purchased homes in new high densities which deny or destroy existing communities. The HDV has not been able to demonstrate in any way how its establishment and operation will change things for the better, especially in such an unpredictable economic climate, and the Council putting all its development ‘eggs in the HDV basket’ in such an untested way is being irresponsible with public money. That is why it must be stopped, and the Council think — and listen — again.”

As Chakrabortty proceeded to explain, Gordon Peters is “shy and sweetly reticent,” but in the high court he has embarked on “one of the most unequal and important battles I’ve seen,” funded largely by donations from those who live in social housing in Haringey.

Chakrabortty’s article continued with the following detailed explanation of the scandal unfolding in Haringey:

The team of council leader Claire Kober has promised that every displaced tenant who wants to move back to a redeveloped estate will be able to. Yet the agreement with Lendlease is peppered with enough get-out clauses to keep Houdini happy. Housing association tenants and leaseholders won’t get that deal – and neither will those who live on Broadwater Farm and other estates to be regenerated later in the scheme.

All this rolls on with minimal consultation of residents – as observed by the council’s own consultants. The council’s own scrutiny committee twice this year called for an immediate halt. Both times it was ignored by Kober. Only a week before Kober’s cabinet voted on the scheme, in July, her team dumped 1,476 pages of documents in the public domain. Councillors and the public alike had just five working days to digest the legalese, bureaucrat-speak and appendices that would determine the future of more than a quarter of a million people.

I went to that July vote, which came days after the Grenfell inferno had sent Britain a warning about what happens when poor people go disregarded. We sat inside the civic centre, while outside an army of protesters roared up through the windows. In a night of damaging admissions, one of Kober’s lieutenants admitted that the new HDV estates could fit “poor doors” , presumably to stop any working-class tenants blotting the sightlines of those in the new luxury flats. The chamber exploded with outrage.

It passed, despite opposition from the area’s two MPs and its two constituency Labour parties, and despite Corbyn making clear at last month’s party conference that the plans of this Labour council would be impossible under any Labour government he heads.

Merely to set up this scheme, Kober’s administration expects to spend more than £2m – a sum that would build a tidy number of starter homes. It admits to having already spent £90,000 on lawyers for this week’s hearing – before any of its QCs have even uttered a word in court. Although Lendlease has joined the case, it wouldn’t tell me how much it was spending. Nor would it answer any of the other questions I put to it – unsporting behaviour for a firm about to get its hands on all that public property. Peters’s float for legal fees, by the way, is £5,000.

Yet since the HDV was made policy this summer two key bits of information have emerged that raise questions about both its aim and its workings. As far as I know, neither has been picked up by any other major media.

First, some context. Crucially, the business plan for the HDV makes not one mention of building new social housing. In a borough where more than 9,000 households are waiting for a council flat and more than 3,000 are in temporary accommodation, Kober has promised only to ensure that 40% of new homes are “affordable”.

On Northumberland Park, one of the first estates earmarked for regeneration under the HDV, more than 1,000 social-rent homes face demolition. Their replacement is just over 5,000 homes – the vast majority for sale or rent privately. According to the freedom of information (FoI) response, only 31% of new homes are designated as affordable. And crucially, the plans make no explicit provision at all for social-rent housing. Lendlease, to remind you, bulldozed nearly 1,200 social-rent homes on south London’s Heygate estate and built just 82 in their stead.

That takes us to the second big warning: the secrecy that now shrouds much of council housing policy. A few weeks ago it emerged that three council representatives had been meeting Lendlease as part of what was called the “shadow board”. These meetings began taking place months before the cabinet actually approved the scheme. Many councillors I have spoken to were told nothing of the board’s existence – they found out through an FoI request.

I asked the council why and it said that it had been disclosed in cabinet papers in February. True: in that 650-page bundle, there is indeed one solitary mention of a shadow board. Press officers also said that the shadow board had no “formal status”. Earlier this month, a senior officer who sits on the shadow board told councillors they hadn’t been told of its existence as it was “pretty boring stuff”.

Chakrabortty proceeded to mock that used the word “boring”, noting, “[a]s if the corporate takeover of a London council’s housing strategy was a mere banal detail,” and adding, “Yet the group was deciding how the new HDV should run, its marketing and even going out for getting-to-know-you-dinners costing £450 a time – just as Haringey is looking to scrap subsidies for meals on wheels. But I guess that’s pretty boring as well.”

He continued:

Equipped with a £50,000 budget, the shadow board also issued position papers. One sets out a helpful grid for the reaction the HDV should elicit from “varied audience types”. So politicians should think “this company will help me achieve my political objectives”. Community members should “engage constructively in discussions. Share messages on social media.” As for hacks, they must “write positive pieces promoting the good work that is being achieved to counteract negative activity”.

I hope all journalists who value the supposed integrity of their profession are taking note of this last point.

Chakrabortty concluded his article as follows: “This is what happens when a Labour leadership attacks the very base that keeps it in power. When an ideologue claims she is being a pragmatist, while those lodging pragmatic objections are dismissed as ideologues. Peters and his side don’t come armed with millions. They rely on a fiver given here, a benefit gig there and a lot of social media. As one said: ’We’re like the Vietcong, going up against the all-powerful Americans.’ Well, we know how that one turned out. My money is on Peters’s side winning – eventually.”

I hope Aditya Chakrabortty is right — as I also hope that the victory takes place sooner rather than later. All eyes need to be on this struggle, and everyone who believes in social housing (non-profit housing for rent, at no more than 30% of market rent) needs to be prepared to fight to protect it.

In the meantime, the court case continues. Yesterday, barrister David Wolfe QC, representing Gordon Peters, told Mr. Justice Duncan Ouseley, “The claimant and others are particularly concerned about the process the council has followed. They are very concerned the council is taking a once in a generation decision without proper consultation and without redress to full council. There is a lack of accountability and democratic process.”

As the Ham & High newspaper explained:

The first detailed concern was on whether it was lawful for Haringey to set up the HDV as a limited liability partnership, LLP, (a type of business where one partner cannot be held responsible for the misconduct of another) rather than as a company.

The second focused on whether the law required the council to consult the public before deciding to give the scheme a green light.

The third was about whether the council failed in its duty to assess the HDV’s impact on vulnerable people, including the elderly and minorities.

The last centred on whether or not the decision to pursue the HDV should have been taken by all Haringey’s councillors and not just a “select few” cabinet members.

David Wolfe QC disputed the council’s claim that it is “not looking to make a profit out of the HDV,” with Gordon Peters providing a document establishing that the scheme is actually required to generate a “commercially acceptable return” from its activities, which in turn suggests that “cabinet members were misled” when they were told that the HDV’s aims “are non-commercial” before deciding in favour of the HDV in July.

Wolfe added that, “under the HDV residents and lease holders would be moved from a council landlord bound by the Human Rights Act to one that is not,” and also explained that “the council has to consider how to prevent discrimination, advance equal opportunities and encourage a sense of community, whereas the HDV would not.”

The Ham & High also noted that, “When Mr. Justice Ouseley pressed Mr. Wolfe to explain his claimant’s concerns over how the HDV would be managed, the barrister explained how if something went wrong in a council tenant’s home he or she could contact their ward councillor who might then get in touch with a Haringey officer who could help.” However, as he described it, “Once this goes to an HDV that is imperilled. The extent to which it is imperilled depends on [how the HDV is governed].”

Today, Ranjit Bhose QC tried to defend the position of Haringey Council and Lendlease, claiming that there have been “no democratic deficiencies,” and that “[e]xisting residents and tenants have been kept informed about the HDV,” an also claiming that there are “no equality issues in this case.” He also put forward the council’s argument that the scheme “will bring jobs and improve housing, something which it could not do without private sector investment and expertise,” as though that argument — even if true — were justifiable. To my mind, it is unacceptable to take dirty money just because you’re underfunded, and I completely fail to understand how Claire Kober and her team can justify their social cleansing intentions, and their hideously unequal planned relationship with Lendlease, which, lest we forget, is a multinational corporation interested only in making a profit.

The hearing concludes tomorrow.

UPDATE October 26, 18:36: Stop HDV tweeted, “[H]earing now over. Judge will make decision asap but could take some weeks. The campaign continues on estates & in political arena.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, about the historic court case currently ongoing in the High Court, where campaigners are seeking a judicial review of Haringey Council’s monstrous proposal to enter into a £2bn partnership with the rapacious international housing developer Lendlease, involving the transfer of all its social housing stock, the destruction of council estates, and, despite airy assurances from the council, the social cleansing – out of Haringey – of existing tenants and leaseholders. This is a hugely important case, with ramifications for those who live in council estates up and down the country. The hearing concludes tomorrow.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    In a post from Leigh Day, solicitors representing the campaigners, Rowan Smith says, “The HDV represents the part privatisation of a whole swathe of publicly owned land on a scale never seen before, with a huge amount of public money at stake if things go wrong. Therefore, it is only right and proper that the court determines whether the council acted lawfully in setting up the HDV, and whether proper consultation with residents and rules on due diligence have been followed. As matters stand, the decision-making process is incredibly flawed.”
    See: https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=67bc89d4-3565-40ee-b9b4-592ac3b12b49

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I haven’t been able to make it to the High Court to support the Tottenham campaigners, but my band The Four Fathers played a benefit gig for the campaign in Tottenham last month, and I’ve also organised a benefit gig in Deptford for our campaign against social cleansing in Lewisham, at The Birds Nest on November 12: https://www.facebook.com/events/185529255352675/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Although it’s great to see some media outlets cover this story, most haven’t, sadly – and I’ve seen nothing on the news. However, here’s a good article on the City Metric website: http://www.citymetric.com/politics/london-borough-transferring-most-its-social-housing-private-developer-what-it-thinking-3427

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    For insulting, patronising rubbish about the planed social cleansing of Tottenham, and dismissive comments about other social housing, see Dave Hill’s article in the Observer today: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/29/gentrification-pushing-out-the-poor-haringey-council-housing-battle-corbyn-labour

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    As I noted on the Stophdv Facebook page, where I first saw it:

    I thought we’d got rid of Dave Hill and his patronising cobblers. Check this: “a populist narrative, simplistic yet seductive, had taken root in the public mind: ordinary Londoners were being ‘pushed out’ by ‘rich foreign investors’ wanting ‘luxury flats’. This has often focused on the ‘regeneration’ of council-owned housing estates, their demolition held to facilitate a more general ‘displacement’ of the poor. The term ‘social cleansing’, shockingly emotive, has become common currency.”
    Shockingly emotive? Thanks, Dave, for completely failing to understand how it feels to be in social housing, with the permanent threat of being sold off or moved out, having your home taken away from you or demolished.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And also this: “Haringey Labour moderates mirthlessly claim that the most strident militants are some of the most middle class-owners of valuable homes in gentrified Crouch End and Muswell Hill.” OK, Dave, here’s how it works – middle-class supporters of campaigns can often bring useful elements to campaigns, but are you – and these so-called “moderates” – really trying to claim that people whose homes are threatened aren’t at the centre of the resistance?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    And this on the Heygate: “held by some to be a mistreated gem of postwar municipal provision but by others as a ‘sink’ blot, best expunged. The financial crisis intervened, promises were broken and the small number of social rented homes to be resupplied on the Heygate site has sealed its status as a cause celebrate.” So the Heygate estate was “a ‘sink’ blot”, and poor Lendlease, withered by the global crash of ’08, can’t afford to provide more than a few dozen units of socially rent housing? Are you kidding, Dave? Lendlease is loaded.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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