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Tottenham   gentrification   development   Haringey Council  

Haringey Council has recently said that it will listen to the concerns of local traders over the ongoing 'regeneration' of Tottenham High Road, which many fear is little more gentrification. Many traders have been recently speaking out against proposed demolitions and the threat of higher rents which could close many local family businesses.

But despite Councillor Alan Strickland claiming that local businesses will have a “strong voice” in the “business steering group” -  which met for the first time at the end of July - the Council has been meeting with the borough's “major” businesses for several months already – and their main concerns do not appear to be the needs of local residents.

The Tottenham Landowners and Major Businesses Group was set up by the Council last year and held its first meeting this January. Since then it has met twice more, giving representatives of Tottenham Hotspur, Transport for London, the Greater London Authority, Arup (a multinational corporation dealing with planning, architecture and engineering) and others the chance to discuss their own designs for the area.

The first time most people in the borough would have heard of the group would have been in June, when the Council announced that “leading development professional” Robert Evans was appointed as chair. He has since been described in the press as “the man put in charge of driving forward the regeneration of Tottenham”.

At the Landowners and Major Businesses Group meeting on 28 February, the potential appointment of Evans was discussed, and it was noted that there could be “some conflicts of interest and that these would need to be identified and managed further”.

Quite what these conflicts of interest are remains unclear. Nor is it clear how exactly they have been “identified and managed further” - if at all. The Council certainly didn't mention them in their press release announcing Evans' appointment as chair of the group, although Councillor Alan Strickland did take the time to note that he was “thrilled” with the appointment.

Strickland also took pains to point out at the February meeting of the Landowners and Major Businesses Group that the group would be “business-led”.

If Evans is “in charge of driving forward the regeneration of Tottenham”, it would only be fair to assume that the group of which he is chair is also responsible for “driving forward” the vast changes that are planned for the neighbourhood. And, given that the group is clearly “business-led”, what other conclusion is there to come to but that it is big business and major landowners – the rich and powerful, in other words – who are calling the shots, despite the Council's claims that local people are at the centre of their plans?

A “sense of ownership and progress”

These suspicions are further confirmed by other notes made in the minutes of the group's meetings, which HSG obtained through a freedom of information request to the Council.

In January this year, at the group's first meeting, it was noted that “the membership of the Landowners Group will be expanded to include wider businesses and investors” - which sounds reasonable, until you read the following sentence - “it will also need to have a clear mechanism for engaging with private sector businesses and third sector organisations that are based in Tottenham.” So locals don't get membership – just “engagement”.

In February the issue of “local people” was again discussed. Paul Wray of Hermes Real Estate Investment Management Limited ("one of the largest real estate managers in the UK with over £5.8 billion assets under management") said that “promotional work should not forget local people and address local communities to get a sense of ownership and progress”.

Similar statements seem to have been made at the meeting on 24 May, when Paul Head of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) said that promotional materials need to try and get across the point that things are not “being done to” them. Rather, public relations work needs to highlight “how we are engaging with communities and stakeholders to deliver change together”.

Unfortunately for the Council, many local people have not been happy with the their attempts to “address local communities” through their glossy promotional brochures - perhaps not the most effective way of trying to convince local people that they, the Council, and the Council's friends in business are "delivering change together".

Demolishing homes and livelihoods

As reported in the latest issue of our newsletter Totally Indypendent (pdf), the consultation document produced for the redevelopment around the Spurs ground and the west of the High Road gives three options for the area which propose demolishing some or all of the existing Council housing on the Love Lane estate, which houses 379 families.

There is no option to retain, and invest in, all of the existing council homes in the area. Instead, the Council proposes to destroy some or all of the houses. Knocking down the lot is described in the brochure as the most “ambitious” of the proposals.

This will come at huge cost and disruption to residents, homelessness for private tenants and many of the leaseholders, and evictions of small business. There is also currently no guarantee for even the Council tenants affected, let alone anyone else, that they will be rehoused on the same or better terms than they currently have.

The same applies to the ongoing threat to demolish the historic buildings, and evict the small shops and vibrant indoor Latin American market around Seven Sisters station - so far successfully opposed by the five-year-long campaign by the Wards Corner Community Coalition.

Fighting back

These threats to Tottenham's communities can be successfully halted if the public get actively involved in the emerging and growing campaigns, such as the Our Tottenham network, that are seeking to improve the area on our own terms - not those of the Council, developers and big business. If we don't work together other Council estates, parades of small shops, and community facilities all over Tottenham and Haringey will be targeted for the same treatment.

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How we got the documents we used to write this article

A couple of months ago we submitted a request to Haringey Council under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which allows people to request information from public bodies like government departments and councils (you can find out more details at the website WhatDoTheyKnow?) There's a lot loopholes and get-out clauses they can use to justify not releasing information you ask for, but it can be useful, like in this case. We asked for:

1. The dates and times of any meetings held between Haringey Council employees or Haringey Borough Councillors and the Tottenham
Landowners and Major Businesses Group (represented by either individual members or the group as a whole), covering the time period 1st January 2012 to the date of acknowledgement of this request.

2. All the agendas of those meetings.

3. All the minutes of those meetings, including lists of persons present.

A month later we received the following documents, which helped us write this article: