Haringey: Labour councillors rebel against leadership over social housing scheme with ‘private partner’

Haringey: Labour councillors rebel against leadership over social housing scheme with ‘private partner’

Haringey’s “Corbyn Council” is facing a first major battle over its housing plans – from its own members.

Nine councillors from the majority Labour Group are mounting a “call-in” challenge to a controversial decision to sell a council-owned site in Tottenham to private developers Magic Homes, which would build 88 homes, selling 46 of them back to the council to let for social rent with the rest sold on the open market. 

The councillors claim the sale is contrary to Haringey’s Borough Plan commitment to “start a new era of council housebuilding…particularly using our own land”, which echoes a key 2018 Haringey Labour manifesto pledge to “build our own housing on our own land”.

A report to the council’s cabinet recommending the deal had failed to address the “risks of a private partner failing” or fully taken into account the “possibility of more social housing units, better control over the speed, quality and timing of delivery by developing the site ourselves,” the nine councillors say.

The call-in puts the cabinet’s sell-off decision on hold pending a review by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee, which meets on Monday. Under council rules it can give the sale the nod, refer it back to the cabinet for a rethink or send the issue up to a full council meeting for debate.

Councillors objecting to the deal include officers of the Labour Group Sarah Williams and Dana Carlin, Peray Ahmet who was sacked from the cabinet by Council Leader Joe Ejiofor late last year, and Pat Berryman, formerly cabinet member for finance, who resigned in the wake of that sacking, claiming that “imprudent” financial decisions had been taken over his head.

The sell-off had previously been narrowly ratified by the Labour group by 19 votes to 17 with two abstentions, thought to include deputy leader Zena Brabazon.

The site at issue is the Red House in West Green Road, a former council care home closed in a cuts round in 2013. A 2016 agreement to sell the site, promising 30% affordable housing, lapsed last year because planning applications had not been brought forward.

The new plan, which was granted planning permission earlier this month, promises almost 55% affordable homes, despite an independent assessment that more than 21.5% would render it “unviable”. Planning officers told councillors the increase had been secured through a “revised land deal with the council”, entailing Magic Homes building the whole development and then selling two blocks of it, comprising 46 homes, back to the council.

That deal was ratified by the cabinet the following day. A similar deal had been ruled out previously because of government rules on capital funding, officers reported. But a relaxation of those rules, plus extra government funding for council housing in London allocated to Haringey by London Mayor Sadiq Khan had “allowed for a different model for the delivery of social rented homes”.

Officers explained that the sale and buy-back arrangement would provide more social rent homes faster than in-house development, avoiding planning risks and helping reduce the council’s temporary housing costs. The scheme is expected to start on site this year, whereas one delivered by the council would not have got going for at least 18 months.

Cabinet member for housing Emine Ibrahim, who was replaced as deputy leader by Brabazon following a vote by Group members earlier this year, backed the deal in her introduction to the cabinet report. “I am pleased that this scheme will not only count towards the council’s 1,000 social rented housing priority, but will also help tackle the housing long waiting list and create savings in the cost of providing temporary accommodation to families, as well as assist in tackling homelessness in the borough,” she said.

Providing private homes on the site as well would also support the council’s wider obligation to meet housing supply targets set by Mayor Khan, she added.

Haringey’s current leadership came to power in 2018 after a campaign opposing the previous Labour administration’s Haringey Development Vehicle proposals to redevelop council land and housing in a joint venture with the private sector. The HDV was scrapped in July last year.

Veterans of the Stop HDV campaign have now called for a “lobby against privatisation” outside Monday’s meeting, praising the nine signatories of the call-in as standing up to “secrecy and lack of accountability”.

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