Haringey Council’s scrutiny committee has backed calls for a rethink on controversial plans to sell off a council-owned site in Tottenham to private developers Magic Homes.
The developers won planning permission this month to build 88 homes on a former council care home site in South Tottenham and sell 46 of them back to the council for social rent in a deal supported by City Hall funding.
But after a marathon “call-in” session lasting almost five hours the watchdog committee sided with nine rebel Labour councillors in challenging the decision as out of line with their manifesto council house-building pledge. Committee chair Lucia das Neves said the deal should be deferred and an alternative “direct delivery” scheme worked up instead.
“The Borough Plan emphasises building council homes on council land and we should honour that commitment by maintaining the freehold of sites where we can build houses ourselves,” she said.
The committee’s decision is a first significant rebuff to cabinet member for housing Emine Ibrahim, who argued that delaying the deal could mean no social rent homes coming forward at all. “I’m not willing to take that risk with those 46 families,” she said. The cabinet must now meet within five working days to revise or confirm its decision.
The scheme’s opponents argued that more council homes could be built with a lower price tag if the council developed the site by itself. Housing campaigner Jacob Secker told the committee the council would be spending more than £300,000 per home compared to £200,000 per unit in direct building costs – figures apparently contained in confidential cabinet papers – and only just over half the site would revert to public ownership.
Magic Homes had “found a magic money tree and planted it in our backyard,” said Labour rebel councillor Ruth Gordon. The council was “selling at a discount and buying back at a premium,” added Mike Hakata.
But Haringey’s housing chief Dan Hawthorn said a direct-build council scheme would take up to two years to design and achieve planning permission, risking City Hall funding which was conditional on building starting by March 2021.
Permission would not be guaranteed as overall planning policy also sought restoration of a redundant pub and provision for church premises, both adjoining the council-owned site. The Magic Homes plan would incorporate those requirements in partnership with the landowners.
Any council development would also have to include housing for sale, Hawthorn added. “You can’t get away from the fact that we need market homes to give us the subsidy we need.”
The deal was “on balance the right decision for this site,” Ibrahim told the committee. The developers had planning permission in place and were ready to start work. “In this scenario, where we don’t have full control of the site, this is the least risky model.”
The council was not selling the land at a discount, she added, and the deal could not be compared to the previous Haringey Labour administration’s Haringey Development Vehicle plans to develop council land and housing in a joint venture with the private sector, scrapped last year, which, Ibrahim said, would have entailed a long-term partnership. “We get 46 council homes and that’s it,” she said.
The rebel nine included several officers of the ruling Labour group, including Sarah Williams and Dana Carlin, plus Peray Ahmet, who was sacked from the cabinet by Council Leader Joe Ejiofor on New Year’s Eve, 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, who was also sacked by Ejiofor on New Year’s Even, only to be elected to her current position by Labour Group members in the spring.
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