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It’s the duty of Labour members to protect the Labour values of social housing

16th February 2017

By Seema Chandwani

When I was housed by the council after leaving care, it was the first time I believed I had a chance of a normal life. Having a stable home gave me the opportunity to go to university, get a job and climb the ladder of social mobility. It angers me that in 2017 we have 8,000 people in Haringey waiting on the housing list to have the opportunity I had.

A few weeks ago, my CLP, overwhelmingly voted against Haringey Labour council’s regeneration project called the ‘Haringey Development Vehicle’ (HDV), billed by locals as the “£2bn gamble”, which aims to build 5,000 new homes. But why would I be so against this amazing project?

The HDV is a complex, large scale project involving £2bn (in first phase) of council homes, property and land including our civic buildings, libraries, health centres and schools. The council plans to set up a private company, of which 50% is owned by a private property developer and 50% is owned by the council. The £2bn of property is transferred into this private company alongside their revenue and income – taking millions out of the council budget.

Labour backbench councillors on the Scrutiny Committee highlighted severe concerns about the risks to this project. The function of Scrutiny is vital to good public administration and our support as members to Labour Councillors performing this independent and often difficult role should always be a priority and their work should always be taken seriously. A large proportion of the motion Labour members voted on, was based on the findings in the council Scrutiny report which was voted on by both the Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, these committees have 10 Labour councillors sitting on them.

The housing element comes under the banner of ‘estate renewal’, its ethos is to demolish and then rebuild. What is rebuilt however, will not be council homes In Haringey over 2,000 council homes will be demolished and replaced with non-council homes. Some will be for private sale, some for private rent and some at ‘affordable’ rents. The aim for the council is to create ‘mixed communities’.

There will be assurances that social rent level homes will be replaced. However as we have seen on the Haygate estate, 1,034 socially rented homes were demolished, with the promise of 500 socially rent level replacements - yet only 82 were provided. Southwark’s ‘partner’ Lendlease is the same private developer that Haringey will be agreeing as their preferred partner.

I voted against this project because it defies the logic and evidence of similar projects which have failed. This project does not tackle the crisis we are facing which is destroying so many lives in London. We have a shortage of council homes at social rents. To demolish over 2,000 will create a bigger shortage. Those people in these council homes will be ‘decanted’, given points and made to join the current waiting list, making it more difficult for those already waiting to be housed.

There is not one person in the Labour Party who does not want to tackle homelessness and the housing crisis, but such deals with multi-national property developers prey on our desperation with promises which will never be met. In fact it will make the situation a lot worse.

London mayor Sadiq Khan is currently consulting on a good practice guide to estate regeneration, Sadiq knows the importance of social housing, his guidelines are very clear about tenants right to return and demolition being the last resort. Many Labour members would support the HDV if these guidelines were guaranteed – but according to the council’s estate rehousing policies, they are not.
It is vitally important that we respond to that consultation and ensure we protect social housing for future generations.

The HDV is far more than a threat to social housing - it’s a threat to the loss of billions of pounds of public capital assets. We have seen similar joint venture initiatives across the UK cost councils millions to set up and even more when it fails. Labour councils need to be better equipped and sharper to defend themselves against becoming prey to the private property sector.

Since the CLP motion was passed, the council have announced and agreed Lendlease as the selected ‘partner’ in this joint venture and this raises further concerns for me as a trade unionist. A simple Google search will show that Lendlease have a track record that should concern all those in the Labour movement.

One of my major concerns is Lendlease are one of the construction companies who appear on the UCATT list of Blacklisters. Blacklisting destroyed the lives of unionised construction workers and it is right that Labour have been strong in challenging this issue for years, however actions speak louder than words and in the same week Chuka Umunna MP is calling for a public inquiry into Blacklisting, we have a Labour council willing to going into partnership with one of the companies we want investigating in the biggest local authority property deal in history. Such an action undermines the legitimacy of Labour’s work on this vitally important cause that will have national consequences.

This and similar projects illustrate a wider problem of clear progressive policy development and local authority implementation which appears to have the autonomy to override the Labour values we should be adhering to. As we continue to explore devolution we must ensure it does not mean those who have power to implement practice and delivery can do so with the absence of any accountability to Labour’s values.

Our loyalty to Labour beliefs should always supersede our loyalty individual Labour politicians, they are elected with the purpose of putting Labour values into practice.  It was not an easy decision to challenge our local Labour leadership, but as members and a CLP we have a responsibility to request the Scrutiny process is taken seriously to ensure our actions in power are robust and that we demand Labour values are at the forefront of what we do when we hold public office and tackle practices that are a threat to the progressive principles that underpin our movement.

To respond to Sadiq Khan’s consultation go to https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/housing-and-land/improving-quality/good-practice-guide-estate-regeneration

Read David Lammy MP’s statement of concerns on the HDV here
Read Catherine West MP’s statement of concerns on the HDV here

Others who have publicly expressed concerns about Haringey Council’s HDV include: Unite The Union London Region, GMB London Region, Haringey NUT, Haringey Unison, Haringey TUC, Defend Council Housing, Taxpayers Against Poverty, The Highgate Society.

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