The difference between Protest Left activism and militant conservationism can often be hard to detect. This goes for various campaigns against redevelopment schemes in London, but the opposition to plans to preserve and re-purpose the old Hornsey Town Hall building seems a particularly good example.
It also provides instructive insights into the priorities of at least some of those who have benefited from the successful drive by Momentum and their various non-Labour Party allies to remove sitting Labour councillors in Haringey and take over the leadership of the council after May’s borough elections.
Last night, the council’s planning sub-committee approved an application by Far East Consortium (FEC) to combine renovating the Grade II listed building with converting it to a mixed-use space, including restaurants, a boutique hotel and spaces for performing arts, shared offices and community use. To its rear, will be built 146 flats up to seven storeys in height, all but 11 for market sale.
Like the council’s current leadership, the sub-committee regards this as an acceptable solution to the very long-term problem of how to look after and derive more benefit from the Town Hall building, which was completed in 1935 but ceased to be the HQ of Haringey local government in 1966. It will relieve the borough of an estimated £100-200,000 per year in running costs. Historic England offered no objections to the scheme.
However, there’s been a determined effort to block the plans by the Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society, whose vision of a “prestigious arts centre” and “community hub” now seems unlikely to be realised. The Ham and High reports that during the “charged meeting” one of the society’s mainstays, Miriam Levin, told the committee: “You could do so much better for Haringey. You could buy a decent amount of social rented houses, not line the pockets of a tax haven developer”. FEC is registered in the Cayman Islands.
Levin has allies in the three newly-selected Labour candidates for the Crouch End electoral ward, in which the Town Hall stands. Last week, Charley Allan, Annette Baker and Will Armston-Sheret wrote to the sub-committee – which is chaired by Natan Doron, one of the sitting councillors they’ve ousted – urging a rethink.
“It’s completely out of character for the locality,” they complained. “Quite simply, it is too big, too high and too dense”. They claimed that “daylight/sunlight and privacy concerns remain completely unaddressed” and insisted that “it is completely unacceptable for any company to maximise profits at the expense of community quality of life”. They too objected to the small number of affordable homes and to FEC being registered in the Caymans, claiming “this makes it likely that no tax will be paid on its vast profits…despite vague pledges to the contrary”.
The similarity between Levin’s objections and those of Allan, Baker and Armston-Sheret might not be unrelated to Levin also being a prominent member of Crouch End ward Labour Party, which she joined in 2015, the year Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader. Allan, a Morning Star columnist, rejoined the party in the same year. Armston-Sheret – just Will Sheret on Twitter and sometimes when quoted in various newspaper articles – is a product of SOAS and was head of data in Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign. Baker fought a by-election in another Haringey ward for the Green Party in that same year.
Such is the pedigree of the new face of Haringey Labour, now set to give Britain its first taste of Corbynite Labour in power from next May. But what is most striking about the trio of aspiring councillors’ dislike for the FEC plans is the pride of place given to what might be unkindly termed the preoccupations of middle-class Nimbys. Those “daylight/sunlight” issues. The privacy concerns. The Conservation Area under threat. “The last thing Crouch End needs as an ‘apart hotel’ – likely to resemble a block of AirB&Bs”, they wrote. Nothing necessarily wrong with any of that. But there’s a sense of aesthetic common decencies being menaced by vulgarity. They might almost be Richmond Conservatives.
In fairness, it cannot be said that Miriam Levin is against all property development in Crouch End – a few years back she and her husband had the Evening Standard round to admire their attractive self-built home there. But she and her comrades’ particular blend of demand for change and opposition to it seems highly characteristic of core Corbynite instincts – a fierce intolerance of impurity, a default suspicion of the new.
This might comfort any Haringey residents fearing a revolutionary fervour sweeping through their borough, disturbing familiar comforts. Those who’ve so fiercely abjured the transformations promised by the Haringey Development Vehicle will be tireless too in blocking other development proposals that fail to meet their exacting standards in morality and taste. The guiding values of the Momentum-run council could end up being more akin to those expressed by Muswell Hillbillies The Kinks than anything that might be thought radical.
Watch a webcast of last night’s Haringey planning sub-committee meeting via here.
Update, 8 February 2018. If you liked this article, please make a pledge to the OnLondon.co.uk Crowdfunding campaign. Thanks.