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31 January 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 5:39pm

Local people stopped the Haringey Development Vehicle – now it’s time for unity

The party needs to pull together to take on the challenges facing the borough. 

By Celia Dignan

The end of the Haringey Development Vehicle is a story of local democracy and accountability in action. Over the last year, residents of all political affiliations and none, from across Haringey’s diverse communities, have come out in huge numbers to lobby our councillors and persuade them to change course.

The media has focused on Momentum but they were a small part of a broad based opposition. Hundreds of members organised and turned out to vote in selection meetings and most belonged to no internal grouping at all. Inside the Labour Party, that has had a powerful impact. It has generated a debate – not always an easy debate to have, but a necessary one – about housing, regeneration, and how we stick to our values in difficult circumstances. That debate was evident in our recent councillor selection meetings in Haringey with candidates opposed to the HDV being elected to make up the majority of Labour council candidates for the May local elections. Labour’s general election manifesto had a big impact locally and resulted in increased majorities for our two MPs, and a widespread belief that Labour could do things differently

Haringey Labour’s leader, Claire Kober, has had a difficult job since she took office and I wish her well in her future career. Like many inner-London boroughs, our residents feel the housing crisis keenly along with the creeping rise of low wages, poor conditions and horrendous level of child and in-work poverty. The council under Claire’s leadership has faced budget cuts of over 40 per cent since 2010, and struggled to guarantee the high-quality public services that residents deserve. Being in local politics, where the effect of national decisions and debates are felt painfully with little recourse to influence them, is not easy.

So I understand why some of my colleagues took the view, initially, that the HDV was the best way of getting new houses built quickly. But we had to ask the question; at what cost? The deal would have involved the transfer of billions in public land and assets – or in plain English, people’s homes, small businesses, social spaces, a school, a library and communities – being placed in an unaccountable development scheme where both residents and elected politicians would struggle to have even a small amount of influence on the area’s fate.

We need housing, desperately, and the best way to ensure that we get safe, decent and affordable housing in sufficient numbers is to put Labour in government at a general election. But in the meantime there are other ways of delivering what we can, as other London councils who have refused to enter into HDV-style partnerships have demonstrated. Rapacious developers and restrictions on local government are a problem for councils across the board.

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Yet alongside all the other concerns about the HDV – accountability, quantity of genuinely affordable housing, the ability of the developer to get the job done (a firm that does not share Labour values) – it is the strength of opposition on the ground which has helped shape local opinion. 

It hasn’t just been blind opposition. We have articulate, bright, and sensitive residents, both inside and outside the Labour Party, who are not only opposed to the HDV but brimming with ideas about how we can improve our community in a tough climate.

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The debate about the HDV is now decisively ended. The local Labour MPs, a majority of council candidates for May’s elections, the Labour Party nationally, community organisations, unions, and more are united in favour an alternative approach to housing. We’re about to have a local manifesto conference where we can work together to propose the ideas that go into our election platform.

And the voices of those who took a different side in the HDV debate remain important. We had a robust political disagreement but there are people of all political persuasions in our party who I respect, and I like to think the reverse is true as well. It will take the energy and talents of people across the Labour family – and most importantly, across the communities we represent – to ensure we meet all the challenges facing us in getting the decent homes, strong public services and participatory democracy that people have entrusted us to provide.

Celia Dignan is chair of Hornsey & Wood Green Constituency Labour Party and a member of Momentum.