Haringey: Housing, community and compromise on the St Ann’s NHS site

Haringey: Housing, community and compromise on the St Ann’s NHS site

City Hall plans for hundred of new homes on former NHS land in south Tottenham are moving ahead, but with only two cheers from residents campaigning for community-led affordable housing on the site.

Mayor Khan this month launched a call for a development partner for the St Ann’s hospital site, stipulating that a minimum of 700 homes should be built there, of which 50 per cent would be “affordable” with an option for Haringey Council to buy some 100 of them for letting at council rents, alongside London Living Rent and London Shared Ownership homes.

The call follows Khan’s purchase last year of two-thirds of the site, which was marketed by Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust in order to raise funds for new mental health in-patient provision, now underway, on the remaining third. 

The GLA scheme contrasts sharply to the health trust’s original proposals, approved by Haringey’s planning committee in 2014, for some 400 homes in all, with only 14 per cent of them affordable.

But just 50 homes have been set aside for community-led housing, which disappoints Tony Wood from the St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust (StART), a group of residents who have battled for a community takeover since the site’s NHS owners first unveiled plans to redevelop it. “It could have been so much more exciting,” he says.

StART grew out of an original campaign for improved health provision on the whole site, rather than a sell-off. With the health trust unmoved, “a number of us then said that if there was going to be a development, local people should have a say in it,” says Wood. 

The group asked residents what their top priorities were for the site – “Overwhelmingly it was for affordable housing” – and set about drawing up their own proposals. £25,000 was crowd-funded in small donations – the largest single donation was £500 – and an 800-home masterplan was commissioned from architects 6a and Macreanor Lavington.

The plan included 10 per cent sheltered and supported homes, environmental improvements, community space and preservation of some of the historic buildings on the site, all on community-led principles: ownership of the freehold and “genuinely affordable” housing in perpetuity, linked to median incomes in the area and developed and managed by the community itself.  

Wood is a seasoned campaigner, cutting his teeth in anti-Poll Tax campaigns then moving on to residents’ and community groups. After “years fighting planning applications”, he said, “we thought we should be more proactive. Instead of waiting for someone else, let’s put forward what we want.”

StART now has a membership of more than 450 residents and over 1,000 registered local supporters, plus backing across the housing sector. It constituted itself as a community land trust (CLT) in 2016. 

On that basis, with professional support but, as Wood puts it, “no track record, no credibility, no money”, it opened discussions with the NHS trust, Haringey Council and then City Hall, to buy the site for 100 per cent community-led development. 

“Fair play to the GLA, they took a chance and bought the land,” says Wood. “But they’ve not been prepared to take a big chance. It could be done in such a different way, working with us to get the funding. That’s been our biggest frustration.”

In discussion with City Hall, the group had finally sought 150 community-led homes on the site as well as calling for the removal of shared ownership housing – which most people can’t afford, says Wood – and 65 per cent affordable housing overall, as well as proposing their own masterplan as the basis for tendering the development.

While Green Party London Assembly member Siân Berry has criticised the scheme for “watering down” the community-led vision, StART has been more diplomatic. After all, a 50-home development would still be the largest new community-led scheme in London, the percentage of shared ownership homes has been reduced to 20, StART’s environmental improvement plans have been retained, the freehold of the site will stay in public ownership, and the group will be part of a steering group with the GLA, Haringey and the NHS overseeing the scheme.

Nevertheless StART is continuing to lobby for its community-led vision, including possible transfer of the freehold of the site to the CLT, and is putting together new plans to take on the development and management of the 50 community-led homes promised.

“We’ve got to be sensible about these things,” said Mayor Khan, responding to Berry’s criticisms. “It’s gone from 400 units of housing with 14 per cent affordable under a dodgy definition to 800 homes with 50 per cent affordable…the final details will involve compromise on all sides, but we hope everyone can agree the future of the site has been transformed for the better.”

The GLA intervention showed “what can be done with the public sector taking a clear lead,” said City Hall housing chief James Murray. “St Ann’s is a very exciting project, which we have made sure will see hundreds of genuinely affordable homes built – including council homes, homes for social rent, and community-led housing”.

Haringey Council, where the Labour administration is pledged to deliver “at least a thousand new council homes at council rents” by 2022, has backed the GLA plans. “The council has been clear that it wants a significant number of council homes on the site for the purpose of delivering on our commitment to prioritise council housing as our preferred tenure,” said cabinet member for housing Emine Ibrahim. 

Meanwhile City Hall is continuing to promote community-led housing, backing a resource and information hub supporting community schemes and earmarking £38 million to deliver 500 community-led homes by 2023. 

Image by Danny Robinson via Wikipedia, taken in 2008.

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