The growing campaign against privatising council homes in Haringey shows an alternative to privatisation and gentrification, writes Colin Wilson.
Over 350 people joined a lively march through north London on Saturday against the privatisation and demolition of Haringey council homes. As the march headed down Green Lanes, a busy shopping district, marchers’ chants, drums and vuvuzelas were joined by drivers honking their horns in support. Banners were brought by Haringey Defend Council Housing, left groups, campaigns and unions.
Speaking at the opening rally at Tottenham Green, campaigner Phil Jackson highlighted one of the key issues – that over 1,400 homes are to be demolished on the Northumberland Park estate. There has been no real consultation with local people about this. Haringey Council organised “fun days”, gave out balloons and did face painting for kids, and asked residents what they thought about their homes. The residents made it clear that there were problems. They needed better lighting, so that they could walk home safely. They wanted more gardens, so that their kids had somewhere to play. But better lighting and gardens aren’t the same as demolition, which no one said they wanted.
That lack of genuine consultation is a key point in the legal challenge the campaign is mounting to the council plans, and for which they’ve raised an impressive £25,000. They are also pointing out that changes will impact disproportionately on black and ethnic minority people. There is also a lack of clarity about whether residents will have the right to return to their estates after the rebuilding is complete, and what security their new tenancies will give them. The legal challenge will be heard in the High Court on 25 and 26 October, and will be the next major focus for the campaign, which is calling on people to come and offer support.
Phil stressed that the campaign can win. Haringey is a Labour council, and it’s only a minority of councillors in key positions that support the plans. Local Labour MPs have repeatedly made their opposition public. The plans will transfer billions of pounds worth of council assets to the “Haringey Development Vehicle”, owned jointly by the council and property developers – any supporters of the scheme are unlikely to be nominated to stand as Labour councillors in the elections next spring.
Finally, the council says it has to hand over assets to the private sector because it has no money. But Phil pointed out that the council paid costs associated with the redevelopment of the Tottenham Hotspur ground in the borough – they even donated £600,000 to Spurs’ charity.
Paul Burnham from the local Defend Council Housing group reinforced the point that “it’s not regeneration to smash up a community.” Two residents from Northumberland Park then spoke. Franklin stressed that a key way forward for the campaign was for tenants to organise together in local action groups, campaigning together and keeping each other informed – he said that some people on his estate think the plans mean they can be confident of getting a new and better home. Lynn is a local resident aged 80 who owns her flat freehold. She has spent money on rewiring and a conservatory only to be told her home is threatened with demolition.
After the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower, the destruction of council housing has become an issue all across London. From Elephant and Castle to Haringey, Labour councils led by councillors from the party’s right wing have claimed gentrification is the only way forward. The Haringey campaign can force a change in that approach. The campaign has areas where it needs to develop – it would have been good to have had more residents from the estates on the march, as well as banners from Haringey union branches. But already the campaign is highlighting what the alternative should be – making the improvements tenants want, but with respect from the council and genuine consultation.