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.
Thanks, worth a try. I'll drop them a line.
A local resident who lives in the north of the Ladder called me about this issue this morning. He said that he felt thankful that the tower was tucked away up at the end of Hampden Road and that at least he wouldn't be able to see if from his road. I told him that whilst I was sorry to spoil his day, in reality most roads in the northern part of the Ladder will have a view not dissimilar to that given in the visualisation below, provided by the developers.
Just imagine how many flats and houses we could fit in if the terraces upon view were five stories high instead of two.
Yes dear. Yesterday you wrote:
I advocate the densification of our Victorian Terraces in the same way that I used to advocate the closing of Wightman Rd. I see it as the only real solution but at the same time, impossible.
Do you have any solutions that you see as viable ones?
No. I don't think anyone does. I read this with some despair today.
I agree. I don't think that sprawl is the right solution, but nor is uncontrolled development. I take the position that building upward is the way to go. But it needs to be done at an appropriate height and in line with plans to which much thought has been given. If Councils feel that that they can write the rule book then throw it away when it suits them, we're going to end up wth the worst possible outcome.
A great example of what needs to be changed.
There are, I guess, as many housing units in the one block at the back, as in all the houses shown on this photo.
If every ladder street lost 10% of it's current housing and that were to be replaced by four to five storey units, there would be no need for any so-called tower blocks AND density would increase. As an example, I could envisage the redevelopment of Haringey Passage and the adjacent properties to form a green swathe across the ladder, which also could be used to calm traffic by introducing some cross ways.
I bet there will be some great views available from the 'tower' at the back. Although it's not really a tower, is it? Time to get to 'feet back on the ground' on the claims about this.
I think it's time define what a 'tower' actually is. 10/20/30 storeys?
You can call in whatever you feel comfortable with Stephen. I don't really give a toss about the label. Like most of the developer's visualisations though it does give us something to conjure with. You have to wonder, for example, how a fourteen storey element (will that do as a label for now?) shows as only one storey taller that the eleven story one. But perhaps I'm being a cynic. Maybe you have more faith in the the straightforwardness of developers than I do.
The occupants of the top floors will have great views indeed, Stephen; you're right. There'll be absolutely nothing of a similar height to the south or west. They'll tower over anything that is built or is going to be built in the designated 'tall buildings area' to the north and it wont be till they get to Hale Village way out in the east they their view will be interrupted.
Your wrong about Clive Carter being the only Lib Dem on Committee. Cllr David Beacham is a Liberal Democrat and actually challenged my dissatisfaction with the offer. Yes i am not against height if it offers genuine affordability but not at any cost. Hugh you challenged me afterwards and said that you were dissatisfied that my primary concern was affordable housing. Well yes it is a big issue because i also represent the fears and the aspirations of people who live on the ladder in appalling HMO'S and on the housing waiting list in Private sector lease temporary accommodation. Me Zena and Gina have knocked on every door over the years in this ward and a lot of those peoples views are not always represented and they may often not be tapped in to these forums or residents group. Yes I champion affordable housing and yes am proud to do so and am confident that when i try to get the best offer on affordability in the ward that residents in the ward support that.
Of course it cannot be at any cost. Hugh the swipe at where i live, thanks for feeling the need to remind me where i live. I have always lived within 15 mins walk of Harringay and grew up in social housing on Noel Park estate after spending 1 year in emergency accommodation with my mum and sister in Finsbury Park as a 10 year old, until recently i lived in a HMO in St Anns, the Cabinet member Alan Strickland lives in a HMO in Noel Park. The Housing crisis is a conundrum we all find a challenge but lets be respectful please and not present a skewed impression of peoples personal circumstances that fits a desired narrative.
Thanks for your comments Emine.
We weren't given any papers to indicate who was who on the committee. So to the uninitiated, it's not always easy to understand who is who, or what is what, particularly given the eccentricity of the Council Chamber sound system. Thank you for correcting my inaccuracy.
As to my 'challenge' in conversation with you and others Emine, let me correct you about its basis. It was not about your concern with affordable housing. The only and very explicit basis of my question to you was because you stated both at the LCSP meeting last week and after the committee that you took your position on this planning application based on your Labour Party membership, rather than on resident opinion. As I explained to you very clearly at the time my concern about this position is that a councillor's primary role is to represent the views of the residents in their ward to the Council, not primarily to vote with party policy. Now, I understand that quite naturally, every councillor's views will be informed by their political views, but you stated twice that they were the main driver behind the position you took on this application. I felt it inappropriate to address your comment at the LCSP. But since we were in a more informal setting after the committee meeting, when you restated your view on the primacy of party policy in shaping your position, I did share my opinion.
There may be a debate to be had on the appropriate role of councillors, but I merely state my views of what that role is and point to the LGA for support in that view.
If you genuinely believe that the majority of people in the ward you represent support this particular planning appplication, that is a completely different matter. But that is not the position you advanced, either at the LCSP or after the committee meeting.
I hadn't wanted to raise this issue on Harringay Online, Emine. I saw it as a conversation between two individuals. I do not run back to the website with every little scrap I might garner from these informal or private interactions. But since you have misrepresented what I said in one of these private conversations I feel that I have no other choice,
To be absolutely precise Hugh i will quote myself verbatim. in response to both occasions where you quote me, when challenged on primarily being concerned with social housing i said "of course i am want more affordable housing I am a Labour cllr". It is a statement of fact it is the platform i stand for election on and i always say that housing is a huge priority. On both occasions i have said however that of course it cannot be at any cost. You implied that therefore this is incompatible with representing residents views - of course it isn't.
A key component of being a Cllr i believe is honesty and integrity and consistency - what i must never do Hugh is be dishonest with you and tell residents one thing and then do another. I probed the affordability offer after the LSCP meeting and on the day of the planning meeting received a response from officers and after my own calculations 10 3bed flats at 50% is in reality 5% genuine affordability that is anywhere near social rent. The rest of 37.5% is 1 and 2 beds at a mixture of 80% and 70%. for me thats not an offer which justifies 14 storeys.
Yes i didn't object entirely on your terms but objected none the less. I also made clear in my opening remarks that i am not against tall buildings in principle. On whether the people i talk about support it the fact is most of those people may not even know about it which is one of my primary concerns about how planning engages with all residents. For me its about doing and acting in a way that improves the affordable housing in Harringay ward where they live. This really doesn't very much and the low level of genuine affordability is at a cost of 14 storeys which is not what vociferous residents like yourself support. Therefore on that basis i objected and not on height alone.
Cllr Carter was right to object, I also think the concerns of the mosque were not sufficiently considered. Bibi was not asked any questions by the members of the committee. Its in their backyard, it was awful that the application was heard on Eid the holiest day of the islamic calendar. Bibi came on a really important day, both of us would normally have been at home celebrating with family. She was ignored and overlooked and was rightly angry as the mosque is the site so directly effected.
I think you misquote yourself rather Emine, and you inaccurately report the basis of why I took issue with you. I'm sure it's a matter of memory rather than anything else, so let's not trouble ourselves too much about that. I don't think we'll get far that way.
I was glad that you probed the committee over the details of the "affordable housing" discount levels. The discounted housing element is very much required.
Since it seems that the application will now be going ahead, we can only hope that we don't end up in the same situation we did with the Spurs development. As I understand it, in that case, after agreeing to include discounted housing, the developer returned some months later pleading poverty. In response, as I understand it, the Council agreed to to completely remove the discounted housing requirement. Wouldn't it would be a crying shame to face the same situation in Harringay where a developer has bought the goodwill of the Council with some discounted housing only for that to be snatched away but still to be left with the out of proportion tower block?
I'm also happy that we can agree on not being opposed to 'tall buildings in principle'. In this respect we are both in tune with the principle of the local and London Plans too. Where we differ however, and where I take issue with the position adopted by the Planning Department and the Committee, is in our readiness to disregard the detail of those plans which is where the strategy of both is given expression. For very good reason, the strategy of both plans very clearly sets out that whilst tall buildings are welcomed, the locations where they may be sited is very strictly and clearly limited. Some Haringey Council officers and members though are happy to bend a rule here and make an exception there. As a result the Council approved a 23 storey tower block in the heart of Seven Sisters in contravention to key elements of the local and regional plans. It's now approved a 14 storey block here in similar circumstances. Yet just down the road in the Heartlands Development Area, an area where policy does allow tall buildings, none are built. It's absolutely bonkers. It shows no logic and taken together with the Spurs debacle suggests that maximising housing, discounted or otherwise, is in fact not the key priority for the Council. Perhaps you're able to make sense of these disharmonic decisions for me?
In the meantime a precedent has been set. Whilst the Head of Haringey Planning tried to contend that precedent is not a consideration in planning decisions, sadly on this like on too many other things on this application, she was just plain wrong and had to be publicly corrected by Haringey's legal adviser. A precedent has been set that will see tall buildings popping up wherever it takes the Council's fancy. The only thing it seems we can be sure of is that their fancy will not alight on Crouch End or anywhere else in the west of the borough.
I understand your approach as a councillor of imagining what the people you represent may want because they 'may not even know about' an issue. It's certainly an approach which I'm sure is far from unique to you and I'm sure that it is indeed possible for democratic representatives to be well attuned to the thinking of those they represent. My contention, however, would be just in case you're at all mis-attuned, rather than presuming what people want, it might be an option to take account of the evidence that is available, (for example the more than 100 objections to the application), and developing an approach from there.
And finally, so as to end on yet another note of accord, yes, we can also agree that a key component of being a councillor is honesty and integrity.