Haringey and the Wholesale Social Cleansing of London: Thousands of Social Tenants to Be Removed Via Estate Regeneration


A Haringey housing protestor in December 2016 (Photo: Polly Hancock).

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I was so busy last week with Guantánamo-related business (on and around US Independence Day) and activities involving my band The Four Fathers that I didn’t have time to devote to a truly scandalous development that took place last Monday — the decision, by councillors in the London borough of Haringey, to go into a 50:50 partnership with a private developer in connection with the future of its properties, including all its social housing, on the explicit understanding that it will demolish huge swathes of that housing and that those kicked out of their homes — their homes, not “units” or properties that don’t count as homes because those living in them don’t own them — will very probably not be able to return to the area, or even to carry on living in London at all.

In a powerful article in the Guardian last Monday, Aditya Chakrabortty captured the full disgrace of this social cleansing, focusing on how those in power treat those whose housing is in their control — with contempt, “[t]he condition of being held worthless,” as he pointed out.

Explaining that “[c]ontempt is the thread that runs through much of the worst barbarism in today’s Britain,” Chakrabortty began, inevitably and appropriately, by discussing the Grenfell Tower inferno on June 14, when a still untold number of people were killed in an entirely preventable disaster, noting that one Grenfell campaigner told the Financial Times, “It was not that we stayed silent, but that they never responded. It was not just that they ignored us, but that they viewed us with contempt.”

He added:

Contempt is the Tenant Management Association being warned again and again by residents that their homes are a deathtrap, but not lifting a finger. It is a local authority watching its tenants burn to death, then mounting a response so pitiful its leader is forced to resign. It is elected councillors holding the first meeting after the Grenfell tragedy to which they could have invited the survivors, but instead locking them out, citing “the risk of disruption.”

When one group of people is deemed unworthy of the place in which they live, the product is inevitably contempt. That applies to the security guards and nursery workers dying in Kensington just as much as it does to disabled people impoverished by the benefit cuts of austerity Britain.

As he also explained, “Contempt doesn’t belong solely to one neighbourhood or political party,” shifting his focus to Sam Leggatt, who lives in Haringey, in north London. On the day Chakrabortty’s article was published, the Labour-run council approved plans to privatise her entire housing estate, and the whole of Haringey’s social housing stock. Her estate is Northumberland Park, in Tottenham, and another threatened estate, also in Tottenham, is Broadwater Farm.

Leggett has always voted Labour, and yet her council, last week, approved a deal that will probably lead to the demolition of her home. However, as Chakrabortty explained, “neither she nor any of her neighbours have been told this by officials.” That word “contempt” springs to mind again.

When Chakrabortty asked Haringey Council about this, he was told that “no decision has been made on the future” of Leggatt’s estate – but that it is “among the first earmarked for privatisation, with ‘regeneration’ to follow.”

Leggatt only learned this the night before. “We’re not worth anything, are we?” she said to Chakrabortty, adding, “We’ve been treated with utter contempt.”

Chakrabortty proceeded to tell Sam Leggett’s story — and the contempt becomes, to my mind, heartbreaking. As he noted, “She’s lived on Tottenham’s Northumberland Park estate for over 30 years, and does the finance and admin for the local childcare centre. She helped clear up the mess after the Tottenham riots of 2011 and went to all the residents’ meetings. She’s raised two kids in her council maisonette, always pays the rent on time and turns everything, even the prospect of being turfed out of her home, into a husky ‘What you gonna do?’ laugh. Her only crime is that she doesn’t fit her council’s ideas for her own neighbourhood.”

And those ideas? In what Chakrabortty described as “one of the biggest gambles ever to be made by local government,” but which I see more accurately as one of the biggest acts of contempt, he explained that, via the grandly-titled Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), “Haringey plans to stuff family homes, school buildings, its biggest library and much more into a giant private fund worth £2bn. It’s the largest scheme of its kind – ‘unprecedented’, in the words of backbench councillors. Together with a property developer, it will tear down whole streets of publicly owned buildings and replace them with a shiny town centre and 6,400 homes.”

Chakrabortty described how he “grew up nearby,” and can see that the area “needs investment,” but pointed out that “this is something else entirely: it is privatisation, even if the council holds on to a 50% share and claims otherwise.”

As he proceeded to explain, the new houses “will almost certainly not be for the likes of Sam.” As he learned when he last wrote about the Haringey plans, back in January, he was explicitly told by the council at the time that the private entity in charge of the redevelopment “had no targets for building social housing.”

This is unsurprising, as Haringey’s partner in the HDV is Lendlease, a multinational construction, property and infrastructure company whose headquarters are in Sydney, Australia. As he explained, “Haringey will entrust the developer with a major plank of its housing strategy for decades, even though when Lendlease partnered with Southwark council on its “regeneration” of the Heygate estate it bulldozed nearly 1,200 social homes and built just 82 replacements.”

The scandal of Lendlease’s role in the Heygate development — and the corruption of Southwark Council — is not only long-standing and disgraceful; it has also been chronicled in one of the greatest examples of citizen journalism that I know, the Southwark Notes website.

Chakrabortty then explained how Haringey Council betrays the principles that the Labour Party is supposed to stand for when it comes to social housing and public assets. pointing out that they “recently sold an art deco town hall to Hong Kong investors to turn into a boutique hotel and expensive flats – with just four affordable homes,” and also that they “spent more than £40,000 of taxpayers’ money this year to swan off to a property fair in Cannes and sell their land to multinational developers,” with an investor brochure full of a futuristic Haringey of shiny, buy-to-let towers. As Chakrabortty added, however, “Strangely, for an area in which around one in four residents is black, it features not a single black face.”

As he also stated:

The council’s own 2015 assessment of its housing strategy says: “Black residents may not benefit from the plans to build more homes in the borough.” It goes on: “The ability of local people to afford the new homes being built, is dependent on them … increasing their incomes to a sufficient level to afford the new homes.”

Sam Leggatt told Chakrabortty that she too understood what was going on. “They want to turn our home into Kensington, without Grenfell,” she told him. She also quoted “an assertion from a senior cabinet member that the estate on which she lives is worth ‘minus £15m.’” The council claims that “this is the net cost of improving the 1,300 homes,” but Leggatt had her own version: “They think we’re what makes it worth minus £15m. Us, the plebs, the people who’ve lived here, raised our families here, worked here, got our memories here. We’re just a commodity to them.”

In conclusion, Chakrabortty noted that, “Unlike its Conservative equivalent, Blairite contempt pretends it is no such thing,” and explained that “Haringey boasts of being transparent, then releases 1,500 pages of legal and financial documents on the HDV just a week before [last Monday’s] cabinet meeting.”

Crucially, he explained that, although the council leader, Claire Kober, promised in the Guardian and elsewhere “to rehouse all existing tenants in the same area, if that’s what they want, on the same rent and the same terms”, the following contradictory assertion was buried in the appendices and redactions of those documents: “The HDV Business Plans prioritise a single move for residents rather than Right of Return.”

As Chakrabortty explained, “This means that, whatever the public promises, when Sam is moved out of her home, her coming back isn’t a priority for the council.” Leggatt herself has a grim vision of her future, sold out by her council: “A one-bed on the top floor of a tower block. I won’t be able to get another job, or see my friends.”

Press officers for the council told Chakrabortty that the papers were only “a provisional set of proposals”, and yet, as he pointed out, they were what the cabinet was being asked to agree to at last Monday’s meeting, and when they were approved, they signalled the start of “one of the biggest privatisations ever known to local government” – and “not provisionally, but for real.”

As he also stated:

Contempt, Haringey-style, is publishing a text longer than War and Peace and expecting the public to digest it in just five working days. It is showing foreign investors one thing, and telling local residents another. Employing a director of regeneration who openly describes part of the area she’s regenerating as a “warzone” – a comment the council claims was taken out of context. It is creating a future for an area in which the very people living there are erased.

Haringey: the tip of the iceberg

170 council estates “under threat of or already condemned to privatisation, demolition and social cleansing by Labour councils”, via the excellent Architects for Social Housing (ASH).Unfortunately, although the scale of Haringey’s social housing privatisation is unprecedented, the assault on social housing — with a huge role played by Labour councils — is taking place all over London.

The excellent Architects for Social Housing have been pointing this out since their founding in 2015, and also put forward wonderful plans for how estates can be refurbished, with new buildings added to pay for the refurbishment, instead of estates being demolished and new ones built, excluding existing tenants. Their uphill struggle reveals how this is not about fairness or protecting social housing, but is at best ideological malignancy, and, at worst, ideological malignancy plus corruption.

These boroughs — Labour boroughs as well as Tory boroughs (and see the extensive list to the left of 170 Labour-run estates that are “under threat of or already condemned to privatisation, demolition and social cleansing by Labour councils”) — don’t want poorer residents living there anymore, in the places they have called home for years, for decades, even for generations.

They want social cleansing, although they may tell themselves that there is no money for refurbishment, and that, as a result, they have to work with developers to knock estates down and build new ones. The social cleansing then becomes one step removed, and those responsible for it can furiously pretend that it’s either not happening or that it’s not their fault, but neither excuse is true. And this, don’t forget, is the best case scenario. In the worst case scenarios, every word these councillors utter is fraudulent, because there is a revolving door, and sooner or later they will end up on the developers’ boards, being handsomely rewarded for their betrayal of their social tenants, and their explicit role as bigoted social cleansers, squeezing out of London anyone who is not wealthy enough to buy into their fraudulent and exorbitant new home scam.

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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12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article on London’s housing crisis, and specifically the war on social housing being waged by Haringey Council, one of a shockingly large number of Labour councils that have completely given up on their responsibilities towards social tenants, and seek only to knock down their estates, socially cleanse them out of London, and build shiny new clusters of overpriced towers for foreign investors or wealthier incomers. Haringey, going further than any council to date – and it’s hard to beat Southwark for betrayal – has just signed a £2bn deal with Lendlease, the Australian company that demolished the Heygate Estate in Southwark, to take over all of Haringey’s social housing, with plans to demolish an untold number of homes, and remove an untold number of residents from the borough, many of whom have lived there for years, decades, or even generations. An absolute disgrace.

  2. Tom Pettinger says...

    How far do you think austerity has sped up this process – would it have happened otherwise?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    One interesting estate that is currently threatened, in Lambeth, is Central Hill, up on Crystal Palace. The estate is well-designed and built, and ASH have great proposals for how it can be saved with profitable new housing via infilling, but it’s obvious that greedy developers and complicit councillors are salivating at all the money that can be made from building a private estate with that view.
    Here’s Rowan Moore in the Observer in January 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jan/31/council-estates-if-they-arent-broken-lambeth-council-central-hill-estate-social-housing-affordable
    Here’s Save Central Hill: https://www.savecentralhill.org.uk
    Here’s ASH’s designs: https://savecentralhill.org.uk/documents/ash_regeneration_design.pdf
    And here’s more from ASH, from a presentation at a conference at the Centre for Alternative Technology as part of the Small is Beautiful festival in Wales last month (also discussed in this article – the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in west London, threatened with destruction as part of the huge – and hugely profitable – Earls Court redevelopment): https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/sustainable-estates-central-hill-west-kensington-gibbs-green-and-patmore/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Tom,
    Good to hear from you. Yes, I think it would have happened anyway. After all, Southwark was selling off Heygate cheap a long time before the crash. That said, austerity’s obviously added financial pressures, but if councils were really passionately concerned about not having the money to refurbish properties and protect tenants, they should have stood up against the government. Instead, they’ve bought into the notion that, because they don’t have enough money to refurbish their properties, the only alternative is to sell them off to private developers for demolition and rebuilding – and in rationalising this they then lose sight of their responsibility to continue to provide housing to poorer people in their borough.
    That’s the most generous analysis. In many cases, however, those making the decisions are already in bed with the developers, and stand to gain financially – if not now, then in the future.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    For the campaign against the Haringey Development Vehicle, see: https://www.facebook.com/2billionpoundgamble/
    A legal challenge has been mounted to resist the council’s plans, and all donations are welcome.
    Please also see the Stop HDV website: http://stophdv.com
    For other interesting commentary on the HDV, see this Left Unity article from April: http://leftunity.org/the-haringey-development-vehicle-a-2-billion-gamble-with-public-assets/
    And this from Michael Edwards, “an economist and planner, and now a semi-retired professor at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning”: https://michaeledwards.org.uk/2017/02/14/haringey-development-vehicle/

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Please also check out Architects for Social Housing’s warning about not trusting the Labour Party – including Jeremy Corbyn – when it comes to social housing in London: https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/jeremy-corbyn-and-the-haringey-development-vehicle/

  7. Anna says...

    Absolutely shocking. And then, a few years later, they will cry crocodile tears about rising criminality in the ghetto neighbourhoods where they will have exiled people to, robbing them in the process of their jobs, social fabric and all else that keeps people constructively busy and allows them to be positive members of society. Add to that the wild automatisation (buy and pay for whatever yourself via internet or even in shops etc with your credit card) which eventually will eliminate millions of jobs of cashiers, supermarket employees etc, leaving them with no legal way to earn a living and no unemployment benefits or other social security safety net, as too few people will still work and pay income tax to finance that, while those getting rich on these criminal schemes, pay far too little taxes.
    I’m pretty sure, that if the UK would properly tax all its millionaires and corporations instead of offering them off-shore tax-havens, there would be money to upgrade social housing.
    In honest schemes the tenants themselves usually are willing to chip in either by reasonably increasing rent (for a better home) or by doing some of the final upgrading themselves, rather than having to relocate to heaven knows where.

    This phenomenon of course is not limited to London or even the UK, nor is the sly ‘participatory’ decision making process. 20 years ago I was involved in the grass-root fight against a disastrous new 4,5 km subway plan and they used the same stratagems. When there would be Q&A meetings with the engineering company and local authorities, the answer to awkward questions would be: “this is just provisional, we are still discussing the details and nothing has been decided yet”.
    At the next meeting the subjects up for discussion would be different and/or the matter would already have been decided. Result is that what was to cost 0,7Bn Euro then, now is costing 4Bn and it still is not finished. Saying ‘didn’t we tell you’ of course does not get you anywhere, even legally, as all the decision makers since then have landed cushy jobs elsewhere.

    I know that much of traditional Labour loaths Corbyn, but if he wants to be trustworthy and respected, he must tackle such policies in his own party as they happen.

  8. Tom Pettinger says...

    I had absolutely no idea what you talked about here had taken place. It’s outrageous that they can get away with doing that. It’s horrible to learn how bad it is!!!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Anna.
    The role of automation really concerns me. I have absolutely zero patience for the self-serve machines that continue to proliferate, taking away necessary jobs – generally part-time and generally for women. I am permanently close to trying to set up a national campaign against them.
    I also wish the places that are obliged to take in Londoners would rise up and tell central government in no uncertain terms that they are already struggling to cope with their existing residents without accepting a new influx of people from a capital that wants only to rid itself of anyone who is not well-off. What an absolute shame it is.
    Corbyn, sadly, has yet to demonstrate that he truly understands the scale of the problem – or to demonstrate that he can overcome those in his party who see no alternative to the kind of developments in Southwark, Lambeth, Haringey and so many other places. I suspect his sympathies would always be with those paying too much for a roof over their heads, but until we have a discussion about what is fair – I’d say no more than a third of anyone’s income in rent, and preferably less; my own preferred model is £50 per adult per week – I don’t see how we can get started on undoing the current nightmare situation for so many people.
    In practical terms, however, for now, in terms of campaigning, I think a mission to stop estate demolitions full-stop has to be a priority.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad you get it, Tom. Sadly, far too many people don’t even know about it, and many, I suspect, wouldn’t care much if they did know. Social housing has been demonised for decades now, and I think the black propaganda has increased since the Tories’ return in 2010. Only the wretchedly poor – and only the “deserving” poor – are supposed to have access to social housing, and everyone else is supposed to be fleeced by private landlords unless they’re wealthy enough to be able somehow to get a mortgage. The intention has been to promote home ownership as the norm, and private renting as the norm, to stop people like me arguing that social housing should be widely available to whoever wants it, and should be financed so that, over, say, 20 years, rents of £50 per week per adult pay for building costs and maintenance. And yet that model is certainly feasible.

  11. Tom says...

    What’s the real Tory message in this? Get rid of the poor once and for all. If you lose your home, job, etc. and can’t make it, that’s your problem.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s where we’ve been heading since the Tories (with Lib Dem support) got back into power in 2010, Tom – trying to make it so that the state doesn’t have to do anything to support anyone who, for any reason, cannot support themselves. Of course, this ignores the huge subsidies paid to corporations, the blight of tax avoidance and tax evasion amongst the rich, and, most crucially, the artificially high cost of living, which means that an increasing number of working people, through no fault of their own, earn less than it costs to live, with, of course, an almost entirely unregulated housing market being the chief devourer of people’s earnings.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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