Property firm Grainger’s decision to abandon redeveloping the beleaguered former Wards furniture store at Seven Sisters has been greeted by some as a triumph. An entity called The N15 Development Trust is delighted that a dangerously dilapidated building will not now be replaced with new housing and shops and is extolling the virtues of its own “community plan” for restoring it, claiming this will produce “something wonderful for all of Tottenham“.
What kind of wonderful? What are the chances? And what if some local people – maybe quite a lot of them – fear that Grainger’s withdrawal has, in fact, meant the prospect of something wonderful, or at least half decent, finally coming to their area has now gone for the foreseeable future?
Far from representing a grassroots uprising against hostile invaders, this is a classic case of a coalition of protesters, assisted by politicians and journalists who ought to know better, pursuing private agendas against neighbourhood improvements because the changes proposed offend their ideological prejudices, personal ambitions and bourgeois snobberies.
The “community resistance” narrative against the Grainger scheme has been centred on the now-closed Seven Sisters Indoor Market, which occupied part of the old Wards store and is known to some as the Latin Village because many of the small businesses there were run by Latin American Londoners. The claim was that a little gem of ethnic minority London had to be saved from evil developers who, with the connivance of venal councillors, intended to drive them out and build “luxury flats” in their place.
All of that was bullshit. The flats were to be just ordinary ones for private rent, the design for the new building was by high-quality architects, and the value of the Indoor Market and its traders has been recognised by Haringey Council since 2014, with provision built in to the plans to secure their future: a temporary home while redevelopment took place; a new permanent home in the replacement for the Wards building; discounted rents to see them through the disruption and beyond.
Far from seeking to have the Latin Village purged, the council and developer went out of their way to accommodate it at the heart of the new scheme, despite being under no legal obligation to do so.
This miserable saga began way back in 2004, when Haringey joined up with Grainger to breath fresh life into the shabby junction where Seven Sisters Road meets Tottenham High Road. The regeneration of Wards Corner, as it is known, was to encompass two buildings: the old Wards structure itself, built in Edwardian times, which stands on a site above Seven Sisters station; and Apex House, a council-owned building on the other side of Seven Sisters Road.
To cut a very long story short, in 2012 Grainger secured planning consent for the two-part scheme, which was subjected to a string of unsuccessful but time-wasting legal challenges. The last of these was rejected in October 2019 as an “inherently incredible” attempt to block a compulsory purchase order (CPO) made by the council to enable Grainger to take ownership of the parts of the Wards building, which had a number of leaseholders, they had been unable to negotiate individual purchases of. There was also an agreement that London Underground would sell its portion to Grainger (see paragraph 5.4 and ownership plan).
The challenge to the CPO was crowd-funded by members of the public who might as well have thrown their money down the drain. Yet despite their case being laughed out of court, the campaigners sought to appeal. Not until March of last year were they denied leave to do so, and then it was Covid’s turn to get in the way. Now, although, Apex House has been replaced by the brand new Apex Gardens, Grainger have bailed out of the Wards building half of the scheme. After 17 years, everything is back to square one.
Grainger say rising costs are largely to blame, partly caused by the need to bring the plans into line with updated building regulations and new energy efficiency and fire safety standards. The retail landscape has, of course, altered too. All of these factors came into play because of the endless delays. Submitting a revised plan, Grainger said, risked attracting yet another string of legal challenges. They’ve cut their losses.
Instead of the Latin Village being given a fresh start in modern new facilities that aren’t a risk to life and limb, its future is in limbo; instead of local people being provided with a mix of cafes, restaurants and retail, they are doomed to spend yet more years gazing at a once-elegant furniture store that stopped being so in 1972 and is falling apart. After TfL took on responsibility for it last June, they found a state of disrepair so extreme that they could not afford to fix it.
For the “community campaign”, all this is simply splendid. It makes you wonder what their definition of the Seven Sisters community actually is: who it includes and who it prefers to ignore. The rejoicing has been shared by Professor Loretta Lees, one of academia’s most prominent orchestrators of the fatuous and poisonous “social cleansing” chorus and chair of the London Housing Panel, a body that works with Sadiq Khan on housing policy. We should, perhaps, be grateful that it is soon to be scrapped.
Reasons often expressed for opposing the Grainger scheme make you doubt that bettering the lives of the residents and small businesses of Seven Sisters has ever been the priority for the noisy army of objectors, know-nothing hacks and local Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians alike: hear the prim disdain for anything mainstream or “corporate”; note that the Latin Village traders who backed the Grainger plans, possibly a majority, have serious doubts about the motives of those who say they represent them.
What will Haringey do now? Could it buy the building? Some of its less numerate members think it should. But last February, the council’s Momentumite then leader, Joseph Ejiofor, pointed out that Grainger “would expect to recoup at least £19 million they have already spent and we would still not own the land”. Haringey’s finances have not got any healthier since. Ejiofor pointed out that proponents of the “community plan” had “provided no clear explanation of how they propose to pay for the extended life of the building or acquire the site”, mentioning that TfL had described it as having gone “beyond its economic life”.
But now Ejiofor has been deposed and the relevant new cabinet member, more Corbynite than Corbyn, has been sending Labour members a finely-spun history of events, saying the new administration is “supporting the Trust and the community plan” and hailing a new era of “co-production”. This, in her words, means “truly listening to residents” and taking a “bottom-up approach to collaboration driven by our Labour values of community empowerment and collective decision-making”.
Sounds very nice. But how will “the community” be defined and listened to? How will its wishes be acted on? Where will the money come from to put the “community plan” into action? Planning permission for it was granted some years ago, but this idealistic vision will require many millions to turn into reality. Who will risk getting involved with people with a history of fomenting sometimes vicious hostility to anything that doesn’t fit with their requirements?
As for a different developer coming forward to rebuild the site, given what Grainger have concluded, perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath. For now, TfL, freeholders of the land and in desperate financial straits, are politely entertaining the “community plan” as a possible solution to making use of this blighted space. But they will know better than anyone that the hard financial questions haven’t disappeared. For how long will the “community” campaigners of Seven Sisters and their allies think it’s just marvellous for nothing to happen while the Wards store building rots away?
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