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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Council Serves Notice that Planning Policy For Sale in Haringey as Tower block approved for Ladder

On Monday night the Planning sub-committee approved the application to build a 14 storey tower on the Harringay Ladder.

Over 100 local residents objected to the application and three of us spoke against it. This is the first time I have opposed a planning application in my life and the experience was a profoundly depressing one for me. It left me very disillusioned with how planning decisions are made in Haringey and fearful for our future if this is the way things are done round here.

I'm comfortable losing a case where it's lost fairly, but for it to happen where the rules of the game are so very clearly ignored and the referee so obviously looking the other way feels deeply troubling. 

When the objectors spoke on Monday, each one of us made it clear at the outset that we welcome the development of housing on the Hampden Road site, including the maximum possible level of affordable housing. Our contention, clearly framed against the policy framework, was that this is simply the wrong development. A 14-storey tower is very explicitly ruled out by national, regional and local planning policy. In essence the policies make it unequivocally clear that tall buildings are allowed only in town centres or in specificlly designated development areas. The latest iteration of the local policy was finalised as recently as this January. 

Throughout this process the planning team has repeatedly advised councillors and the GLA that Hampden Road site is in the Heartlands designated development area, where tall buildings are alllowed. It is not and it never has been. The official Haringey Council map we provided the committee on Monday makes this clear (it's the area fringed by a red line with grey teeth).

A map from the 2016 policy revision adds a further layer of evidence by showing exactly where tall buildings are allowed.

What's so ridiculous is that in the area directly to the north and north west of the site, tall buildings are allowed. Yet in this area, we've seen the New River Village top out at 8 storeys, Smithfield Square at 7 and even the Heartlands area at just 10 storeys. Housing is a priority, yet in all of these areas the Council has not taken the opportunity to maximise the housing provision. As I asked the committee on Monday, what's so special about the Hampden Road site?

We've had inane explanations from planning officers like it will "enhance heritage assets" and that it is "animated to a degree so as to add interest" to the local area (which an architect described to me on Monday as "absolute bullshit"). I met another architect I know recently who regularly attends planning committees to speak for developers. When I mentioned the Hampden Road case, he responded, "Oh the Fairview Nightmare". Apparently the development is becoming renowned in architect circles as being preposterously out of scale.

The case for refusal was clear and the development has already attained a notoriety beyond the borough's borders. Yet it was approved unanimously with the lone exception of the one Lib Dem councillor on the committee. 

I'm left struggling to understand why. I'm still not sure that I know, but there are some things I can share that are part of the puzzle.

The first iteration of the building came in at 9 storeys. That was refused and amended to 12 for the second application. During the planning process that increased to 14 storeys, apparently in response to a group of councillors meeting as the "Quality Review Panel". Neither developers nor councillors operate in isolation. The developers bid for all they can get. The councillors are guided by the officers, who respond to a quiet political hand. So I'd like to better understand who guided the developers to submit a solution that is so clearly against planning policy? What drove this? Was it just incompetence or was there another motive?

In seeking an ulterior motive, the only suggestion that has come to light is the drive for new homes, in particular for affordable homes. Both London and local policy has set targets for both. However, in their fight to develop Tottenham, the Council have agreed with the Football club that they can build their huge development free of any obligation to include affordable housing. One wonders if there's a shortfall to be made up as a result of this strange deal. I certainly got a flavour of that from my sources. It was made clear to me that there had been majority party discussion on this application and that the unofficial line favoured approval because of what was described on Monday as the "unusually high level of affordable housing it includes".

There's a cost to affordable housing for the developer and the Council have dug themselves an affordable housing hole. It's in the interests of both to do a deal that both can live with. It seems that this deal was done. Our local community however pays the price in the long-term. We're left with a totally out of scale building that openly flouts national, regional and local planning policy.

There is even doubt on whether the danegeld has a glister that belies the truth of it. There are three types of affordable housing - social rented (council rent levels), discount market rent and discounted purchase. This development offers only the last two types. The issue then becomes focussed on the level of discount provided.

Harringay Ward councillors Cllr Zena Brabazon and Cllr Emine Ibrahim both addressed the committee on Monday. Both focussed on the issue of affordable housing. Both were concerned about the level of discount offered. Crouch End based Cllr Ibrahim made it clear at last week's LCSP meeting that she supported the development and was prepared to accept the building height that has so concerned local people because of the affordable housing included. Yet on Monday she voiced strong concerns that the level of discount on the affordable housing was unacceptable. Even some of the scheme's most ardent supporters feel that the price the developer paid was too low, even for them.

To cap all this the hearing for the Harringay application was preceded by one for an application for a six-storey building in Tottenham.  One of the primary complaints of the objectors was the building height. The committee members listened intently and questioned them at length about their concerns. This application was accepted by a narrow margin of one vote, but at least the committee engaged with the objectors and showed interest in their issues.

When it came to our application for a building two and a half times the height of the Tottenham application and in clear breach of planning policy, the members showed absolutely no interest and didn't ask us a single question. The speaker from the Wightman Road Mosque was so incensed at being dealt such short shrift that she immediately made representations about it to the Council.

The contrast in the levels of committee member engagement with the two applications was astonishing. It was explained to me afterwards that the reasons for the difference probably lay in the fact that the local councillors for the area where the development in first application was based had been strongly lobbying for their residents. This ensured at least the engagement of their colleagues on the committee, if not the hoped for result. Such lobbying was not conducted by either of our two councillors elected in 2104. (In fairness to our third and newly elected councillor, the recency of her appointment meant that she hasn't been in a position to do anything till it was too late).

Even the very process designed to give the residents a voice has built-in frustrations. Each objector was given just three minutes to outline their objections. This responding to an application running to many hundreds of pages and covered by complex planning policy. These allocated minutes contrast with the hours, days, weeks and months the developers spend with officers and councillors. At every stage the playing field is not level. The planning committee has a quasi-judicial status. I can't imagine any judge would feel that this quasi-court gives all parties even a quasi-fair hearing.

Should anyone believe that I'm alone in my concern about this tower, in the Evening Standard yesterday Simon Jenkins reported a recent Ipsos MORI poll which found 60 percent of Londoners think that London's fixation with tall buildings "has gone too far". (I'm not sure how I would have answered that question; I love tall buildings. I find skylines in the US dramatic and exciting. But tall buildings need to be built in the right place). 

So what hope for the future? We have a huge swathe of development planned in Harringay. So we'd better be on our toes. Jenkins in his reflective piece in the Standard following Prince Charles's recent speech about development in London despairs of finding any remedy with architects and planners but wonders if there's salvation to be found with the new mayor:

Why do architects and planners so hate what people claim to want and ignore the evidence of what has made London so popular and habitable? Why can they not create the neighbourhoods in which they themselves mostly live?  

True power lies where it should lie, in the mayor who is elected to decide on London’s overall appearance. The first two London Mayors, Johnson and Ken Livingstone,  created a London skyline that is a visual car crash. 

Their decisions have, mostly, been environmental disasters. Standing next to the prince last week was a certain Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor. He was applauding enthusiastically. We wait to see if he meant it.

London's future will no doubt look out for itself. Here in Harringay, we should attend to what happens on our doorstep. One thing that this week's profoundly depressing experience has made me certain of, however, is that if I ever take part in objecting to a planning application in the future, I will not waste much time again engaging in the openly democratic part of the process. The levers, it seems, lie behind closed doors and in trying to gain some of the same long-term access that is generally given to developers. 

Tags for Forum Posts: hampden road development, tall buildings

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It's hard in this sensitive situation, as a one time Haringey resident and now a continental European resident  to read the comments here and at the same time, try to hold back the laughter.

The obvious ignorance of the state of housing in Europe,  the U.K., in London is staggering. Currently we are in a Europe-wide shortage of accomodation in cities. The countryside everywhere is hemorrhaging residents, as more and more find city living, culture and lifestyle more inviting.

The residents here are actually victims. Victims of their own home grown selfishness. How many couples (two people) live in terraced houses, which mostly in this part of London, were thrown up at low cost in the late 19th century and mostly if not all, are well past their sell-by dates? (economically and eco efficiently).  Even a family of four uses the space that ideally three to four times the amount of people could and should (happily) use and do in equivalent European cities.

As had been mentioned here on HoL before, to accomodate all those who choose to live and work in London, surburban areas need to be much more densely populated. Most of the ladder and Gardens fall in to this category.  Ideally, the old victorian terraces need to be demolished and replaced by five to six story apartment houses (on the same street grid if possible), fitted out with apartments 1-4 rooms +kitchen & bath, 40 to 130sq m.  I hazard a guess in that a typical ladder street instead of housing, say 200 people, could acheive a population of 1,200 in this way **.  also with basement garage facilities for all cars, leaving the streets free of parking. 

If the Ladder was rebuilt in a six/five storey style, there would be no need for tower blocks. But because, victorian terracing underuses the land available, to the detriment of the majority, there is no other option than to build new apartments in tower blocks. So, I repeat .. victims of their own selfishness.

Nobody in a large city has a 'right' to a garden. A balcony maybe, but not a garden. Residents of London may have been sold this illusion, but it is not true.

And to answer the question:

Why do architects and planners so hate what people claim to want and ignore the evidence of what has made London so popular and habitable? Why can they not create the neighbourhoods in which they themselves mostly live? 

It's quite simple. It is not possible to enlarge London any further, without building upwards. If we do continue to build only terraced housing, there will soon be a London Borough of Peterborough, with no trees or free land in between (and no dark skies at night either between London and Birmingham. Los ANgeles style sprawl, traffic and pollution. Also, all the disadvantages that long distance commuting by car and train bring with them. Living close by the places of employment and shorter journeys to work is the answer.

The logical answer would be to begin densifying the current streets, by demolition and new building. Or alternatively, to build taller tower blocks between the terraced streets.  Wanting to remain living in terraces, and not wanting tower blocks, is like wanting cake and eating it.

** Not official figures.

Don't worry about the laughter Stephen. Goodness only knows we all laugh at you enough.

I agree with you that London's housing stock needs to densify. However it should not densify in an unplanned way. Most of Europe has much stricter planning laws than the UK - and for good reason. Unplanned development breeds unliveable cities. 

Neither I nor any of the objectors who spoke are seeking to halt development. We're seeking to influence it; to hold it on course with that which the strategic plan set out. You talk about five or six storeys. I wouldn't object if the Hampden Road site was developed at nine (though I'd need some convincing that the Ladder's narrow streets would work well with five or six stories).

And what of that awful waste on the areas to the north. Why such low density there and such a high density (well in excess of that stipulated in the London Plan) on Hampden Road? Had the strategic plan been followed and the opportunity taken on those sites we'd have ended up with far more housing than we'll have now by crowding so much on to one small site (a site which the plan published by Haringey as recently as January recommended for 56 units. It's being developed as 174).

I'm not fighting much needed development. I'm opposing stupid muddle-headed development where hard won strategic plans are thrown out like an old sofa for no good reason.

Oooh catty..  never mind, if it makes you feel better.

But I'm still only hearing the same old story..  I'm not against but..

I see no reason why the narrow Ladder streets wouldn't work with newer building. In such a scheme, all new building would need to be provided with parking. But that was only meant as an example. It won't happen and therein lies the problem.

Be prepared to see more high rise buildings.

Catty? Not a bit of it. I assumed that your talk of laughter was shared with a true warm empathy for others whose view may differ from yours. My laughter was returned with the exact same warmth. 

As to the 'same old story', it sounds like you only want to deal in simple black and white. My view is neither. I'm neither all for or all against development, all for towers or all against.  Like most people, I think, my view is more nuanced by my personal constructs. In the case of the Hampden Road site, I support development of dense housing, but not any dense housing at any price. The building will have a significant impact on our townscape. Any such building should be of the highest architectural standard. Architects I have spoken with who know the plans are unanimous in their view that this building is at best mediocre.

You say nothing of the merits of Haringey's strategic plan and of the borough adhering to its chosen path. Is is your contention that high rise buildings are acceptable anywhere without constraint?

OK, it's your Forum.  I just thought it was time that someone put an opposite view to the 'approved' HoL line on things.

I do find the whole argument pretty parochial and the whole 'Hale Village' debate  (directly next to a Underground Station and Rail link) illustrates very clearly how established residents try to hinder any new development. Often egged on by politicians who sniff power through opposition.  

Michael and John have both put foward logical reasons why the whole thing has come to this. A London wide strategy is needed and perhaps in the longer term a few neighbours on the Ladder could come together to build a co-operative building project on the sites of their houses. As John correctly states, they could increase the value of their land substantially.

Lastly, in case you want to use that old chesnut against me, I was in London, Haringey, Tottenham, Harringay less than ten days ago and BTW, Paris as well, so the comparison of the three capitals and their solutions to challenges of the future are very clear in my mind.

There is no approved 'HoL' line on things, either from me or from the generality of those who post, Stephen. I would think that the Wightman Road discussions amply illustrate that point.

I welcome opposing views and can often learn from them. However, I won't necessarily agree with what those views are and as I have done above, I'll explain why and provide the basis for my opinion.

I'm not up to speed on what happened at Tottenham Hale, but for my part, I have never objected to a planning application before in my life nor have I felt inclined to. I am a strong supporter of the community project to develop the St Ann's site and as I said am in favour of the six storey development on the Hawes & Curtis site. So whilst there are no doubt residents who 'try to hinder any new development', you cannot count me amongst their number.

As to the issue of a London-wide strategy; there is one. It's called the London Plan. The GLA is the regional policy maker who owns the London Plan. The plans of the local policy maker, the Council, have to be in conformance with the regional ones. Great pains are taken to develop them. Once complete the policies provide a considered and democratically arrived at strategic solution for a borough or a whole city. As Michael and I have said, a significant issue that emerges from the handling of this application is the way the local plan is being completely disregarded when it suits the Council so to do. As it happens it is also in contravention to the London Plan in several important respects, an issue of which the GLA have not been aware since they were provided inaccurate information by our council. I can't see how this is defensible on any grounds.

I've never used your absence from the area against you that I'm aware of, Stephen. So I assume that your comment isn't directed at me. You have your roots here and have some understanding of it today. It's always interesting to hear a balanced view of how things are done elsewhere in the world, particularly where intelligent and considered comparisons are made with our local context.

Stephen.

I agree with what you say.

If only we could demolish whole stretches of the Ladder terraces and rebuild higher to modern standards we would make much more efficient use of the available land and reduce our energy requirements through effective modern insulation.  We would avoid the canyon effect by shortening the back gardens to rebuild further away from the road. We could then widen the streets and get any remaining cars off the road and into basement garages.

The problem, of course is that, unlike in other European countries, most of the terraced housing is owner-occupied and we would have to have a housing authority to buy up contiguous houses until there were enough on adjacent sites to make it economic to redevelop.

Not in my lifetime, I'm afraid

You're allowed to build much denser closer to a transport hub. I think there's a formula. That's why they can't build higher in Heartlands, unless of course they get one end of a CrossRail 2 platform there.

So the Haringey planners said, but if you look at planning policy, on which I admit I am no expert, it is not clear to me what basis that claim has. The London Plan, from which Haringey's policies must follow has this to say on the subject:

Tall and large buildings should generally be limited to sites in the Central Activity Zone, opportunity areas, areas of intensification or town centres that have good access to public transport

The whole of London is not a town centre. The nearest town centre is Wood Green. It is the GLA's opinion that the site is almost a kilometre beyond the boundary of the Wood Green Town Centre.  A kilometre is a long distance in London. It is too far to qualify the site on the grounds of being in a 'town centre that has good access to public transport'.

It may easily be that there is another part of planning policy of which I am unaware that puts a different slant on things. I'd be genuinely grateful if you could point that out to me.

As to the Heartlands, I'm afraid you're wrong. It's identified as an 'Area of Intensification' in the local and London plans and Haringey are free to approve buildings to whatever height they wish as far as planning policy is concerned. For development purposes, this area includes all the land from the corner of Hornsey Park Road as far west as the current Smithfield Sqaure/Sainsbury's developent on Hornsey High Street.

I think what bothers me most about this development and the Tottenham regeneration is that complete lack of planning. Haringey, like all other planning authorities, has a Local Development Plan. These take years to develop and are suppossed to hold the strategic planning policies for the planning authority for up to 50 years. There is simply no point in producing these if they are going to be ignored, watered down or turned into a document that should sit in the fiction section of my local library. For me it comes down to a choice between two routes - development that is lead by the local authority or development that is lead by allowing market forces to dictate direction. I wish Haringey would decide on one or the other rather than pretending large developments in the borough are in some way in accord with its plans.

Precisely! The same was allowed to happen in Seven Sisters where a 23 storey block was given planning permission in the face of planning policy.

That decision seems to have created a precedent which looks like it's going to mean that a developer can pick pretty much any site it likes in the east of the borough and buy planning permission. 

Yep, you wait for one unsuitable giant ugly monster misplaced ffffing tower and three come along at once.

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