Haringey councillors lose seats over housing demolition lies: but what next?

haringeyCorbynite ‘left-wingers’ have apparently taken over the Council of the London Borough of Haringey in a ‘purge’ if the right-wing press is to be believed. There is the usual nonsense about ‘ruthless attacks’ by the left (see for example, Pippa Crerar, ‘Corbynistas purge of moderates in London gathers momentum’, Evening Standard, 30 November 2017). In fact, the de-selections of sitting councillors in Haringey are really a protest by grass roots Labour supporters over the attempt by the existing right-wing Labour clique on the Council to demolish council estates and replace them with homes built by the so-called public-private partnership known as the Haringey Development Vehicle or HDV (see Proletarian August 2017). The behaviour of this clique (led by Cllr Claire Kober with Cllr Alan Strickland as Head of Housing Regeneration and Planning) has been so outrageous that it provoked a revolt leading to 21 sitting pro-HDV Labour councillors being de-selected or standing down under threat of de-selection to make way for anti-HDV councillors. Though these 21 councillors are still sitting, they will be replaced by new candidates in the May council elections.

The HDV, led by property developer, Lendlease, with Haringey Council as its alleged partner, will destroy over 2,000 council homes in Haringey, if all the plans currently being considered are implemented. This would include the great majority of the remaining council housing in Northumberland Park and the whole of the Broadwater Farm Estate.

What has enraged campaigners and activists almost as much have been the endless lies of the Council about the scheme. The Council keeps insisting that 40% of the properties on the site of the demolished estates will be affordable. When critics argue that so-called ‘affordable rents’ can be 80% of market rent, the Council argues that they will provide lower social rents, or rents related to average incomes (such as London Living Rent.) This is all grossly misleading. Haringey Council has not been seeking to make binding plans with Lendlease to build such quantities of affordable housing. As the Haringey Development Vehicle Strategic Business Plan Place Strategy says, such proposals will be put forward but they can then simply be rejected following a viability study. This means that the developer can say the plans to provide 40% of the housing at genuinely affordable rents have been examined but have been rejected owing to the adverse effect they will have on their profits. So Haringey Council can promise anything they want in terms of thousands of cheap-to-rent, top quality homes being built in order to get people to agree to their demolition proposals, all the while knowing that nothing like what is being promised has to be implemented nor indeed is at all likely to be implemented.

Another appalling lie is on the right to return. Permanent council tenants have to be re-housed by the Council following a demolition. The Council is saying that all of them will be able to go back to housing built on the site of their old demolished estate. Now, actually exercising this right is hard enough in practice, as it tends to mean years in temporary accommodation before moving back. But in Haringey’s case the right is a lie for the majority of the affected tenants anyway. The Members’ Agreement that Haringey has drafted (but not yet signed) with Lendlease indicates that the HDV will only give Northumberland Park residents the right to return, so the majority of council tenants needing rehousing in Haringey after demolition will not get it! The agreement indicates that the Council will have to fund the right to return for the rest. When challenged about this Cllr Strickland did not say that the Council would (or could) fund this but referred to some imaginary new version of the Members’ Agreement that he hoped would be signed in future. This means that the promise made to all tenants on the Council website and by senior councillors on this issue is a lie. How can a promise be made when there is no agreement or funding in place for it and no plausible reason to believe that this will be forthcoming in the future?

Gradually Haringey Labour came to realise that the HDV is a con and, what appeared to be a fairly spontaneous rebellion took place in the ward selection meetings. This has been a cause of happiness for many who feel that victory has arrived. It is our duty as communists, however, to point out that victory in such matters is not so easily achieved. Left councils and left governments always come under immense pressure from outside to abandon their goals and adopt the right-wing policies of those they have replaced. This will almost certainly happen in Haringey. The key point is that all Councils have targets identified in their Local Plans for new house-building. In Haringey the target is 19,802 by 2026. The Local Plan has to be agreed by central government. If it is not agreed, or if it is not kept to, then the Secretary of State (currently Sajid Javid) can intervene and take measures to force the Council to do the house-building deemed necessary. The reason why estates are being knocked down is that the Council already owns the land so it is cheaper and easier to use this land to build up new estates at much higher density in order to achieve an increase in housing units. If the new councillors refuse to knock down estates, then it will make it even harder to reach the already very difficult housing construction target. This will lead to much pressure to scrap opposition to the HDV. Of course, any serious revolutionary with mass support would be able to stand up to such pressures and organise opposition. The problem is that we are talking about the Labour Party here, albeit its left. There must be a serious danger that the great ‘socialist rebellion’ in Haringey ends up fading away. For this reason activists and all local residents must keep fighting resolutely against Lendlease until victory is final and guaranteed.

Ultimately, the housing problems of Haringey and the UK cannot be solved by capitalism. In a planned economy housing would be allocated according to need. The UK can build all the housing that it is physically possible to do but, while housing remains an object of speculation for financiers, the price will simply be bid up until it is unaffordable for huge numbers of people. A planned economy would ensure the development of all regions, avoiding people fleeing unemployment in one area only to find themselves in the middle of a housing crisis in another as everyone tries to do the same thing. The Soviet Union guaranteed housing for all and when communists are victorious, the people of the UK will get it too.