Canary Wharf rises above an area of council housing in Limehouse. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

“Poor doors” show why we need to get councils building again

We must end the virtual monopoly that private developers have on building affordable homes

The rules are clear: the poor are allowed to live close to the rich, but must use a separate entrance. They can share buildings, but are barred from mixing socially. They live together, but on every other measure they are light years apart. The scene comes straight out of Downton Abbey or a Dickens novel, reeking of inequality, anachronism and humiliation. It is, though, the stark reality of 21st Century London.

The increasing use of so-called "poor doors", as reported by the Guardian at the weekend, is disturbing – but it is just one symptom of a housing emergency that continues to afflict ordinary Londoners. It is quite clear that any system that results in this kind of discrimination is not working. Londoners should not be told that they live can in the capital’s new developments but only as second-rate citizens of their own city.

The Mayor should use the planning system to phase out the "poor door" trend – a practice that has no place in a global city that thrives on its diversity and mixed communities. But let’s not lose sight of the real cause of the problem: a deep housing crisis that dominates life in the capital. The city needs 800,000 new homes by 2021, while over 250,000 London households are already living in overcrowded conditions. A lack of supply means soaring house prices - up 25 per cent in the last year - and rapidly-rising rents are pricing ordinary Londoners out of many areas of the capital, with the result of increased segregation within the city and, now, even within buildings.

Some might ask if having a separate entrance for lower income residents in a development really matters. I believe it does matter when we think about the kind of city we want to live in. Do we want a divided city where the rich and the poor are kept separate – a city in which central London becomes a lifeless millionaire’s playground, while large parts of outer London effectively become ghettos of the poor? Or do we want a vibrant, dynamic world city in which people from all walks of life live, work and play side-by-side, thriving off each other and together contributing to a great global success story? For most Londoners the answer is clear – but it is not one that is being put into action.

Instead, in place of the old "No Irish, no blacks, no dogs" signs that greeted my father when he landed in this city in 1956, some developers are now erecting signs that, in effect, say "No cleaners, no nurses, no teachers". That is the underlying message of building designs that go to great lengths to keep everyone but the richest away from these luxury developments. Affordable homes may be included in the architect’s plans, as they legally have to be, but their eventual inhabitants are increasingly being told that they should be unseen and unheard.

The problem is not limited to London. A similar practice exists in New York, where new developments on the Upper West Side include separate entrances for different groups of residents. The Mayor, recently-elected Bill de Blasio, has rightly baulked at the idea, and made moves to ban the practice. Yet the affordable housing system in New York rests on a tax subsidy to developers who build affordable homes, whereas in the UK developers are only granted planning permission at the outset if they provide affordable housing as part of the development. This process is often heavily negotiated with local authorities and it is at this point - where politicians and planners have the leverage - that we should draw up and rigorously enforce a set of planning guidelines that emphasises shared points of entry and equal access to amenities.  

Those guidelines should be formed in conjunction with developers, housing associations and residents’ groups in order to make sure we get this right. We cannot remove developers’ financial incentive to build developments that make them money - but equally we need to make sure that we give local authorities the powers to get the best possible deal for lower income residents.

We must also end the virtual monopoly that private developers have on building affordable homes. "Poor doors" are the result of a housing system that depends almost entirely on private house-builders to deliver our affordable housing. If we could unleash local authorities from their artificial borrowing caps and empower housing associations to make better use of their assets, private developers would no longer hold all the cards when it comes to building affordable homes for Londoners.

The result of failing to get London building would not just be a deeper housing crisis but a more deeply divided city. Already we are seeing signs of this, with widespread fears that the capital is becoming a city in which the rich and the rest are increasingly segregated. To allow this to happen within individual buildings is simply adding insult to inequality. 

David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham

Getty
Show Hide image

Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times