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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

17 questions about Haringey Council's gift of public land to OnSide Youth Zones charity.

I rather stumbled on this issue by accident. As Chair of Friends of Chestnuts Park I learned that Haringey Council possibly planned to fence off and give away a large chunk of our park, for £1, to OnSide Youth Zones charity. As you'll see from the briefing below, we believe that this threat has now passed. However, enough questions remain about the process which led to such a scare for it to feel a duty to share them with others who may be interested.

I'm writing here in a personal capacity, not as Chair of the Friends. And I'll happily return to my more usual concerns and interests now I've posted this briefing - for example we're working on the community orchard trees near the tennis courts tonight from 6pm - join us!

If any of the links in the briefing don't work, please copy and paste in your browser.  I'll also happily correct any errors in the info below as soon as I learn about them, plus post any updates or answers we receive to the 17 questions as we learn more.  

17 unanswered questions arising from the Haringey/OnSide story, plus some background info gleaned from sources in the public domain and direct phone calls to those involved

1          A small victory for public parks, but questions remain….

As soon as Friends of Chestnuts Park (FOCP) heard in late March that our park was the preferred location for Chestnuts Community Centre to be demolished and a big chunk of parkland to be fenced off and given away to the charity OnSide to build a “Youth Zone”, (we were not informed officially), we moved fast to research everything connected with this apparently unusual deal.  The more we discovered, the more odd it all seemed – disposing of public park land, for £1, for 125 years, plus giving a £3m donation and guaranteed £250k pa revenue for 3 years, to a charity with an ambitious business plan to raise a lot of matched funding through grants and donors but with no record of delivery in London.  (We believe that £250k may nearly equal the current annual LBH youth service budget).  At first we were told that the Youth Zone would only occupy the same footprint as the Community Centre (810m2), but it soon became clear that the new building was projected to be 2500m2 (equivalent to 3 Community Centres side by side), plus enclosed outdoor courts etc and would involve fencing off the entire corner of the park from public access. The smallest OnSide Youth Zone we could find has an overall total footprint of 5500m2. It would have taken away more than 10% of this little park, for 365 days a year, in an area of green space deficiency and in breach of London Parks legislation. 

On 1 April the Friends of Haringey Parks Forum (FOHP) unanimously called on Haringey Parks Service to resist any reduction in open green space. On 2 April a packed meeting of Friends of Chestnuts Park met with Cllr Ayisi, lead Cabinet member for this project, and made our views clear that LBH policy to protect public green space should be followed, and also that the Community Centre should not be demolished without replacement plans and funding in place.  We were also very clear that we were strong supporters of new facilities and services for young people - it’s a difficult position to be seen to be questioning something new which seems so shiny and nice - but most were sceptical about the proposal as it stands, wherever it is sited. The potential risk scenario of creating a large shed, like some of the worst PFIs, unsustainable in the long term, was highlighted.  The project just does not seem to have been sufficiently researched or debated, especially by those with an in- depth understanding of youth work practice and models.  It’s true that OnSide are promising to bring in a lot of outside money to run their iconic building, but it also demands a big investment from LBH, and many felt we hadn’t heard a convincing argument that it was the right long term model for this scarce investment. It commits to a new building, run forever (well 125 years) by an unaccountable outside independent organisation, rather than to an ongoing service, responsive to local need and locally accountable.

On 5 April Cllr Ayisi phoned FOCP to tell us that Chestnuts Park, and all other public green space in the borough, had been taken out of the frame for a Youth Zone and that they would be looking at the other sites (currently 6?) on their list.  That’s good for parks and Community Centre users, and we thanked him, but serious questions remain, which are listed below.  We remain vigilant about Chestnuts, and are reconvening at 3.30pm on Saturday 6 May to update each other and further discuss the issues that have been raised for us by this scare. (For more background on OnSide and LBH, see paras 3 - 5 below and also www.friendsofchestnuts.org.uk

 2         17  Questions which need to be answered by LBH before one can fully judge the wisdom of the OnSide contract

  1. Why has there been no procurement process?  Other than the promise of additional money for it, what was the decider for going for this OnSide model, when it doesn’t seem to have been researched or commissioned locally? 
  2. Is the governance profile of OnSide one which LBH Cabinet admires and considers suitable for this borough? http://www.onsideyouthzones.org/about-us/our-board/ (If link does not work, please copy and paste into your browser. For some reason this morning all the links to OnSide and Council minutes in this briefing are playing up!)
  3. Why the need to actually give away public land if OnSide doesn’t want to use it to raise collateral/loans? 
  4. What is the Commission/Working Party’s remit and why is its reporting deadline (June) so very short? 
  5. How come the Cabinet made the firm decision to go ahead on 14 March prior to the Working party even convening? (Unless the Working Party is only delegated to decide on location, does not that undermine the working party’s role?) 
  6. If the Working Party, after its research, decides that that local and outreach youth provision is needed as much as, if not more than, a new flagship centre, will OnSide still be the appointed provider, in spite of all its track record being in single flagship centres?  (Tweaking OnSide’s usual model to include some additional local delivery, and outreach and/or using additional donated money to fund and/or run Bruce Grove Youth Centre, might seem attractive. But if that is the model desired, then the partnership with OnSide becomes less logical and surely should be procured and commissioned in the usual manner)
  7. What will be the knock-on effect on other facilities, e.g. the GLA-supported new climbing wall at Ashley Rd, and other sports centres when separate facilities are established, possibly with greater subsidy than existing ones? 
  8. What happens after 3 years, when the initial commitment from donors dries up? (Other Youth Zones are having to consider commercial hires to keep going at this point.)
  9. Who  - even for a moment - thought that it was appropriate to give away and build on even one sq metre of public parkland, let alone 5500 sq m?
  10. The Cabinet minutes state “Where land identified is open space the Council must before disposing of the land cause notice of its intention to do so, specifying the land in question, to be advertised in two consecutive weeks in a newspaper circulating in the area in which the land is situated, and consider any objections to the proposed disposal which may be made to it”. Does this seem an adequate form of warning about such a breach of the council’s own public green space policy?
  11. What budget was going to be found to replace Chestnuts Community Centre?
  12. Was the loss of rent to LBH (most recently we think it was £22k pa) from Chestnuts Community Centre factored in to the financial model for siting the Zone in its place?  
  13. Why is this charity, OnSide, being treated so much more favourably than any other charity from the borough or elsewhere? (Others can raise matched funding, donations etc, but are rightly obliged to offer services as per LBH requirements in return for LBH funding. They also have to pay rent on premises. The entire delivery of a borough service, in this case youth services, is not usually given to an outside organisation to deliver independently, as they see fit, for ever, rent free, however much match funding is promised by them). 
  14. The new facility would be run by a local Board of independent OnSide trustees. The inaugural chair is City Alderman Alastair King queenhithe.com/career/. Given that trustees’ fiduciary duty within Charity Law is to only look after the aims of their own charity, why did the Cabinet minutes refer to the Council having representation on the new Board?  (According to Charity law, Trustees cannot “represent” any outside body. Other youth zone boards operate independently from local political accountability). 
  15. If LBH has £3m capital to put in as match, and £250k pa revenue, where is the evaluation of the alternative options for this investment, including for example investing in Pendarren outdoor activity centre in Wales, Bruce Grove Youth Centre etc? 
  16. Who will be valuing the land given away? (The cabinet minutes refer to regulations whereby the land can be undervalued by up to £2m but still given away if an argument is made that it is of social value).
  17. What conversations have taken place so far between OnSide and LBH  - when, where and who was involved, before this decision came to Cabinet? 

3          LBH public land gift/disposal to OnSide – how and why it seems to have been agreed

3.1      OnSide originally approached LBH and have apparently been having informal talks with Council for around 3 years. “The Council had not considered developing a major purpose built youth facility in the borough before being approached by OnSide” (Cabinet minutes).  Indeed, the partnership with them for the product they offer was neither commissioned nor procured by LBH. It appears that OnSide's offer of raising matched money and talk of an “iconic” and single “flagship centre” may have turned heads, even though the actual product has not been commissioned, and many of those close to work with young people and experienced in youth work are not convinced by OnSide’s facilities-led model. Whilst it is true that these kind of iconic new centres are popular venues for ribbon cutting with major donors and politicians, they are not the only solution to meet youth work needs in Haringey.  Youth work is about trusted relationships – adults who “walk alongside” young people. In this terrible funding climate, much of this kind of youth work has lost its funding.  It’s not just about facilities and capital spend, but crucially about revenue, experienced staff, and supporting young people to access facilities that already exist. Building a big shed of a Youth Zone, with a membership fee structure, which can then suffer PFI type crises after 3 years, is not necessarily the right way forward. But frankly, it’s not easy to judge that right now as the LBH decision to go ahead just appears hasty and not fully evaluated. 

With the offer of ownership of free prime land for 125 years, a £3m cash donation to a building they would outright own and manage, and guaranteed contribution of £250k pa for three years, there are many of us who believe we too could raise impressive capital and revenue match and offer great services to local young people. 

OnSide are under time pressure in Haringey as £1m of their £3m match comes from a promised Queen’s Trust grant which is time limited because that Trust is winding up in 2019/2020. Hence perhaps the pressure on LBH to rush, including making such an unsuitable offer to give away public green space.  

3.2      Due process?  How it looks from the outside from info in the public domain

 From observing other processes like this at LBH, I guess that at some point in February the Labour Group of councillors agreed to go ahead with the establishment of a Commission/Working Party to examine the principle of going ahead with the OnSide offer, the draft contract and commenting on location etc with a reporting date in June. Presumably various councillors volunteered to join it.  But then on 14 March LBH Cabinet formally agreed the partnership with OnSide, with final land disposal delegated to officers – apparently not subject to any decision about the core principles and  model made by the working party. https://www.minutes.haringey.gov.uk/documents/s91897/Cabinet%20pape... .  The working party subsequently formed comprises Cllrs Mark Blake, Eugene Ayisi, Barbara Blake, Lorna Reith and one other Labour councillor. I do not know if it has convened yet nor the terms of reference for their work. I don't doubt that they will work in good faith, but they have a very short timeline, and, it seems, little room to manoeuvre given the Cabinet has already made its decision to go ahead with the model - unless the opportunity is opened to reconsider that decision.  

3.3      The decision to offer up Chestnuts Park and Community Centre

At some point before 14 March, after looking at 16 sites, it was apparently concluded by LBH that Chestnuts Park was the only site large enough for such a huge building (2500m2 building, 5500m2 actual zone area including outside court etc) and so this was the site provisionally offered. Chestnuts was the only site remaining in the frame, and remained there for several weeks.  OnSide were still concerned about the location, believing correctly that it was not sufficiently accessible from across the borough. (Their concern probably increased once they were also informed about the park’s QEII Fields in Trust protected status, the park’s sewer and drainage problems, its position in a buildings Conservation Area, LBH policy not to build on green space, the lack of plans or budget for rebuilding Chestnuts Community Centre, etc ..). Fields in Trust were also concerned and notified LBH that the land giveaway looked as if it would break the Trust of protection.   

4         OnSide  nationally - https://www.onsideyouthzones.org 

Set up in 2008, OnSide has a particular model, with a single aim, "to build a network of 21st Century Youth Centres, giving young people quality, safe and affordable places to go in their leisure time". Some people feel that this model has worked well in Northern towns with a single town centre, where they currently have 8 zones, with the oldest running for 6 years, but most less than 3 years. OnSide now have an extremely ambitious national growth strategy, to grow 20 zones by 2020. This exponential growth rate would usually be considered risky. http://www.onsideyouthzones.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/youthzon...  

Their national board has an unusual profile for the 21st Century in the UK - 10 white men and one white woman https://www.onsideyouthzones.org/about-us/our-board/.  Their philanthropic model seems more a facilities-based model for youth work, rather than a relationship-based model. The policy to charge young people annual membership of c£5 and a per visit fee of 50p, is part of their philosophy. They have a good track record of attracting very wealthy business owners to donate substantial amounts for 3 years. These donors often also chair and/or serve on the local Boards.  Many of them have been generous donors to their local Youth Zones.

 5         OnSide Youth Zones in London

There are no Youth Zones yet in London. It’s a harder environment for their model to operate, as boroughs tend not to have the centre of town locations which suit OnSide’s model. But OnSide aims for 5 new London zones by 2020. Once a borough has given agreement, OnSide works initially with local young people to consult on local branding and a name for their Youth Zone, and the kinds of activities which the new building should house.  We believe the five boroughs below are their current target boroughs in London:

Finally, it may well be that OnSide’s offer of masses of cash to seemingly solve ongoing challenges in funding youth work is super attractive, but in my experience it’s never that simple, and if due process is followed you tend to get better decisions. 
Ceri Williams, Chair, Friends of Chestnuts Park, but other than the info in para 1 about Chestnuts Park, writing here in a personal capacity.

April 10 2017

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Doesn't matter. The conclusions of the Scrutiny Panel have no weight with the Council overlords, when the members of the Panel can be whipped to vote against their own recommendations.

Thanks, John D, for pointing out that absurdity. (Just noticed it again doing some filing.)
My understanding is that, legally, Local Authority Scrutiny cannot be whipped. And should not have been whipped to force them to vote or speak against Scrutiny recommendations. Or to try preventing them calling-in a decision of the  "Cabinet".

And even if I am wrong and there is some get-out clause which gives a Leader power to do this, with a majority of 49-8 it should not have been used. Or even thought about.
That degree of control freakery should tell people all they need to know about who was doing any alleged bullying under Kober and her pals' dysfunctional regime.

See my new thread on this for updates and responses. http://www.harringayonline.com/forum/topics/resurrection-of-discred...

Please use that thread to respond to this comment below too. 

Just one correction to my post above, I've now realised that this might not have to be brought to the March Cabinet meeting, the Cabinet decision made to go ahead with Onside in principle, subject to the report of a Working Group, a year ago hasn't been rescinded. I would imagine (and hope) that the next meeting of the Labour group of councillors on 27 Feb would discuss it and make sure everyone is aware of the pitfalls of the model.  There could of course be a challenge given that I don't think the Working Group ever met or reported. 

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