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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Four years ago the Council (LBH) made a surprise, no-consultation announcement that they had found a private school to take over this huge 1930's campus in the centre of Crouch End at the end of my street. The plan was to raise approx £10m cash from selling the right to concrete over unused open space and build 123 flats in the car parks of this expensive town that can only attract buy-to-leave investors.  The money was to be used to restore the main building into a luxury HQ for a private school that charges up to £18k/yr course fees.

Senior Cllrs met  (in secret on the grounds of 'commercial confidentiality') to award a £1/yr 125 lease on this 100%-owned public asset, worth around £150m. Lease details were held and remain secret.

Since 2003 the 'voice' of Crouch End in all this has been expressed in secret meetings with the Property Services department of the Council.  Our 'voice' is in the hands of a group of council-appointed local people who made themselves Directors of a registered charity & trading company (the 'Creative Trust'). Unpaid volunteer work, no doubt well-meaning.

Most of the meetings that had to be minuted under the law escape scrutiny as the 'Creative Trust' 'lost' them all so we can't be sure exactly what part was played by whom, nor at what cost, but we do know that the Council want the approx £5m they've spent on HTH since then returned to them. That includes around £2m I was told informally that the 'Creative Trust' spent by instructing council officers to retain various consultants but that's hearsay.

The minutes 'lost' by the 'Creative Trust' included those of the official meetings held every three years at unspecified locations to re-appoint themselves as Directors. All six local, hard-working, professional, unpaid volunteers are just about to re-appoint themselves for their third three-year term and are very much in bed with LBH - they claim to speak for Crouch End as regards the regeneration of HTH, even though very few Crouch Enders have ever heard of them and they don't consult or publicise their activities and have always refused to let ordinary residents into their meeting as silent observers.

Sadly, central government scrutiny of the entire private school project (suppressed by LBH for nearly a year) seems to have pointed up the need for an 'open book' examination of the tenant's promise to fundraise. The tenant promptly walked away before the finances could be aired. The flight announcement was finally made public in January 2015. The 'Creative Trust' knew what was about to happen but decided not to say anything to Crouch Enders, presumably in case it provoked awkward questions.

Property Services sprung into action - they hired a large firm of property consultants (GVA Ltd, nowhere near the cheapest available, probably chosen as they'd done work for the LBH Chief Exec's previous Council, Barnet) to cobble together a hastily-assembled, highly selective 'options appraisal'. This lists some possibilities and ranks them.  As usual, the Council kept it confidential for so long that most of the options now look ridiculous as they depend on the private school that, during the long secrecy period in which the options appraisal was withheld, walked away. No matter, Property Services had spent the money (sum undisclosed, held in secret) so they might as well use the by now largely irrelevant report.

Thus ended another blight on the centre of our town.  A huge dark looming blight that clearly stuck one giant finger up at local people. A blight that lasted four years, including 2012 when local people got together to revive the Crouch End Festival. Did the Council/Creative Trust help in any way? They wouldn't even let a cable be passed in through the window to help power the main stage as it has in all previous festivals, let alone open up the huge empty space - even as changing rooms for the artists.  I know. I asked.

The local Crouch End Lib Dem Cllrs who presided over all this for all those years must feel ashamed of themselves but don't want their answers to any of my questions published. I know. I asked. During those four years practically the whole of the campus could have been used by the community, not to mention the years beforehand. What a waste!

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Over a decade of campaigning by people not in thrall to the Council bore fruit as it finally dawned on the secretive non-public-facing Property Services Department what we were advocating. That there might be a consistent, coffer-filling demand from renters for a huge empty space in pricey Crouch End. They were talking to some experienced event producers about another matter and they probably spotted the HTH opportunity - who knows? Those event producers formed themselves into a three-person startup.

In typical fashion, LBH promptly announced their surprise, no-consultation decision, not mentioning the presumably massive subsidy (exact amount unknown, held in secret. Date unknown, held in secret). They had awarded a startup a fourteen month HTH lease (rental amount unknown) to end Jan 2016. This to a tenant with no assets, no financial track record and no expertise in sub-letting.

The moment the startup announced that HTH was open to be rented early in 2015 the startup filled the place, only constrained by the years of wilful neglect that left large chunks difficult to let even though budget was available for maintenance - arguably the biggest failing the 'Creative Trust' were party to.

The startup rolled up their sleeves (bless!) and the whole community poured in after them. The place is beginning to get the creative use it could have had since the millenium. This year, for instance, for the first time in Crouch End, the Crouch End Festival will occupy big bits of HTH, inside and out. There are parties, dances, creative local people trading, drama, theatre, painting, sculpture, broadcasts, TV, music, sport, cinema etc etc - a lot of possibilities open up.

But wait! We didn't realise what else LBH had also decided in secret because they simply didn't tell us, in spite of new promises to be more 'open'. The fallout from the failed private school fiasco seems to have led them to wash their hands of HTH once and for all.  They've called a couple of 'invite only' meetings for CE 'stakeholders' - here are the slides that were shown. There will be a week-long public 'exhibition'.

All the previous reports, demonstrations, meetings (some attend by a massive 600 local people) leafleting, rallys compared by celebrities etc depended on the Council being there to back us up and hear our voice - LBH repeatedly said they were 'working on behalf of the community' etc and were determined to 'secure the future' etc etc.  We had built up a set of basic expectations the Council trumpeted their willingness to fulfill.

LBH have form with Ally Pally. Since the 1980's there has been a huge set of problems with Ally Pally and the Council held firm - they didn't abandon that white elephant and lo and behold, it's recently attracted millions in public money and part if it's future is assured - after all, it's a 100% publicly-owned asset. They had appointed a CEO for Ally Pally.

Buried in last weeks' 'stakeholder briefing' slides is a new bit of double-think that was never part of the deal, never agreed, suddenly introduced without consultation.  It's jargon for:

LBH will stop supporting HTH

That means the premature death of HTH if you ask me.  No, they won't pull it down - Councils have pulled down Grade II* listed buildings before and got away with it, but there's no way that could happen here.  Possibly one Director and probably one Assistant Director of LBH Property Services (council employees with years of experience and expertise gained on LBH's vast property portfolio) are going out into the market to sell off HTH to the highest bidder. Anyone who can jump through the various (secret) conditions LBH will impose.  May involve lunch.

There is no suggestion that they'll allow the new HTH buyer just to install 'a ping-pong table in the basement' to fulfill the community obligation.  The new owner will have to stump up real hard cash (just as the private school promised) to secure the deal. Or not. The private school may have made promises that they would raise a reputed £9m and did hire a fundraising company but we'll never know the details - it's all secret.  Not only is it 'commercially confidential' there is no right of access under FOI, no 30 year rule - we'll never find out even though they walked away, having spent £482,000 of public Lottery money we'll never get back.

So, the future of HTH rests with one or maybe two of council officers (amongst the highest-paid employees we've got) who are at liberty to conduct secret negotiations in the market, knowing that the devil in the detail will never be revealed. They will bring those deals back to the senior Cllrs (who lack any specific property expertise) so that the Cllrs can 'decide' what to do.  Is anyone outside this charmed circle even qualified to give an opinion?

What we do know is the LBH Property Services track record here in Crouch End. Have you felt their effects elsewhere in the Borough?  Wards Corner maybe? Pinkham Way? I don't know much about the quality of the decision making or commercial deals there, I live here in Crouch End, where it's been a disaster.

A very common reason for bankruptcy among smaller orgs is moving into a vast new HQ that depends on a doubling of future revenue - that's what LBH Property Services negotiated with their private school tenant. Senior cllrs agreed to those recommendations, probably with no suggested changes whatsoever.  Did nobody stop to even ask the question, what if...

If I'm right and that was a crazy dangerous deal then how about giving the whole thing to a startup with a massive subsidy? That's what they did next.

No wonder calls for a separate scrutiny system just devoted to Senior Cllr decisions are mounting.

Why isn't detailed info available to local people?  Why haven't LBH published an 'evidence base' on their website the way some others do, so that we can all see the facts needed to make an informed decision?  Is it because LBH have fulfilled their legal duty by having a tame 'voice' from the shadowy 'Creative Trust' for the last decade?

The latest move is to hold an hour-long presentation by the consultants on Monday night where they will be on hand to answer questions, followed by a week of the exhibition boards being on display in the Town Hall and the local Library. Could they have held the exhibition first with questions at the end?  Come and hear for yourselves as they 'walk you through' the slides at 6:30pm, followed by a Q&A at which we will learn that they have everything under control and are on the look out for any troublemakers.  What do you think? I will be there, will you?

Tags for Forum Posts: Hall, Hornsey, Town

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Hornsey Town Hall Facebook group if anyone's interested.

Will those be the key thinkers, back tanned and refreshed from the Riviera?

I am genuinely and sincerely puzzled, Chris.

I know almost nothing at all about this sorry saga. Maybe I should know more. Though to be frank there's been far more than enough similar stuff going on in my own part of Haringey to keep me busy.

But you have clearly seen enough of this Crouch End disaster with your own eyes and had most of it unnecessarily hidden from the eyes of yourself and others. And you've made the connection with other ongoing messes. You mention Pinkham Way and Wards Corner.

So are you still positively disposed to this Council?  Or are you confining your criticism to a few not so rosy apples in Property Services?

Do you still find my attitude unduly and unfairly negative towards the Kober Kouncil; to Nick Walkley; and to his consultantocracy?  Or would you perhaps perceive repeated patterns?  Similar symptoms pointing to the same underlying disease?

A disease which now threatens to spread to other parts of the body politic and engulf some of the most vulnerable Haringey residents.

Save Our Day Centres

Alan you seem to bitterly condemn almost everything they do with broad bits of nastiness, personal insults and huge generalisations that are meaningless. That encourages others to chime in with general fantasies about how this is a 'failing council' and everyone who works for it is somehow deliberately doing us all down.  You've shown this view time and time again though your many posts on the subject of how you think Haringey's ruling Labour party are in fact Tories.

I respect your literate, intellectual approach and know you to be a talented person who, unlike me, not only has the guts to stand up and be counted by offering yourself time and time again for election as a Cllr, but you also have the broad public appeal to have consistently won almost every election you stood in. I suspect, like me, you're a contrarian and as such my heart warms to you - I guess that, like me you wouldn't join a club that would have you as a member and it was that which caused you to stand up and act out your principles in defiance of the Labour Party whose rules you agreed to follow and so they effectively ejected you.

And yet, and yet...

Phrases like 'Kober Kouncil' and 'consultantocracy' are so Daily Mail\Rupert Murdoch I fear you do more harm than good.  The point is and always has been to change things for the better.  A more appropriate perspective is that the rich are savagely oppressing the poor. Over the last five years the austerity policies of the right wing let the top 1,000 double their wealth whilst we all suffer cuts that cost more than they save for purely ideological reasons.  London is being socially cleansed by property price rises, the NHS privatised, employment conditions so bad that having a job is no longer a way out of poverty, free schools and academies undermining the whole education system, UKIP-fuelled closet xenophobia and racism on the rise, the Lib Dems growing more openly treacherous, the Greens less credible etc etc - you know all this stuff and more. I could go on.

What I am seeking is specific changes and improvements that I personally am likely to be able to bring about. That's not easy when we already have a system that I am not part of and have no authority and power in - it flies in the face of democracy for any one person to make themselves judge and jury, to think their individual view somehow more important than the will of the majority. I try to stick to those incremental changes that I think I am likely to be able to achieve. As a consultant who helps people advocate directions I point to, I think I can influence without leading.

Don't think Cllrs or Council officers are bad people. Quite the opposite.  The ones I've met over  decades of interacting with them are almost without exception honourable people worthy of respect. A big fault is the false 'contract' they seem seduced into offering. They say 'let me listen to your issues and I'll address them' as if they had God-like powers and all we needed to do was tell them and they're off to solution-land.  Modern issues are necessarily complex and we are subject to global forces. Horrible right-wing, unnecessary budget cuts imposed by the Coalition mean there's not much more they can do than administer cuts and firefight - very few things can be 'fixed' by local Cllrs. The underlying problems referred to above, with inequality at the top, seep through into everything, poisoning the well of good intentions.

The 'democratic' system is really, really broken and plainly doesn't work here in Haringey. Cllrs can't even get a decent majority so most are elected by a minority and pretend to try to speak for us all whilst being forced to tow the party line. I think of this as a 'tyranny of the majority'.  I don't want 'leaders' I want representatives I can believe are truly representative. Is Haringey Council representative of Haringey? No.   20% of those able to vote in Haringey voted for Haringey Labour to run the Council, so 80% did not. Do Cllrs make decisions based on political opinions that reflect a consensus? No, they're heavily biased towards their interpretation of a 'Labour' view and act accordingly. What of the people who didn't vote for them? Tough.

We're in the mess we're in because we the people can't be bothered to get up and do anything about it, we won't take responsibility so it's left to strange and unusual people to do it for us.  We can't complain, it's our fault.  Almost anyone can stand up and, if they make enough noise, get to steer a bit of the ship in their direction. It's fundamentally about power. Look what power has done in the past. Vast, cruel inequality - people in chains everywhere.  

Add to that the quite natural tendency of the trained professionals who make up many of the full-time Council Officer staff to look on themselves as long-term custodians of the public good whatever anyone else (including Cllrs) says and we are where we are. 

You constantly slagging Cllrs off generically really doesn't help anyone, it just fuels prejudice. What is it that you could change that you want changed, specifically? 

My main aim is an open, collaborative system where we can play a much bigger part in our own consensual future. That is predicated on us all having access to high quality information. I want almost nothing held in secret. An 'evidence base' where people are all able to agree on the same facts, make comments and suggestions, see the effects of changes and learn what genuinely makes things better and what doesn't. And I want to be able to do this easily, mainly using web tools. Who has got time for meetings? 

Here's a prediction that it'll take around 55 years for all non-self-driving cars to die out. - what diff will that make:

The holy grail in a way is participatory budgeting. With Paris up to 5% of it's spend allocated this way it's fast becoming no longer a new idea. Let's all get together in a local room with stacks of money and allocate it in piles according to locally-derived priorities.

Participatory budgeting map

What I can do is bang on and make a din.

I particularly don't like the idea of 'commercial confidentiality' as a mask for Officers to think themselves entrepreneurs.  Some Councils are going head over heels into a commercial model where they just become yet another service provider like Capita, Serco, Costa Coffee, Amazon, Google and other fine tax avoiders.  Maybe this is driven by the previous CEO of Barnet, who is now our CEO?  I don't know. What it means is that more and more Council activity is not only secret, there is no FOI right, let alone a thirty year rule, so we'll never know the truth, even long after everyone concerned has passed away. Our ignorance condemns us to repeat the mistakes of history.

As the weight of secret info held by Haringey Council on matters that directly affect me and mine renders me almost powerless to contribute, what's the answer?  Break down the wall of secrecy brick by brick. Help make the public sector open and inclusive - an alternative to the market, not an appendage of it.

How to begin?

If they won't let us at the truth, let's claim to have worked it out and have them contradict us.

This is far too long.

Chris Setz often pours out his passions on HoL. And sometimes I too wish he'd done a lot more editing. ("Kill your darlings" seems to be the journalists' saying.)

However, in this case, Chris has a complex and important story to tell.  So I don't mind giving more time and doing a bit more work (and a little speed-reading) to get to the end of it. What I'd like to see is more, not less information about Hornsey Town Hall being added by Crouch Enders and others who've also been involved. Who could perhaps add to, complement, or challenge Chris' view.

Yes, information can be presented in shortened form - like Powerpoint bullets or in Excel boxes. But in my experience of the Council these are regularly used to obfuscate facts and 'sell' a particular message. This has now become Haringey's house-style.  "Pravda" style - as Clive Carter used to say.

At least on Hornsey Town Hall, as a concerned private citizen, Chris seems to have seen through the obfuscation, And be challenging the Koberite propaganda.  He may or may not be justified in his criticisms. But let's give him a fair hearing.

Thanks Alan, appreciated.  I'd also point out that everyone can see at a glance how long a post is and it's not (yet!) compulsory to read everything written on HoL.

Some suggestions.

(1)  Do think about what Gerry said. Ask yourself whether you will get more readers for your writing - especially if someone's taken the trouble to comment and tell you it's too long. I don't mean use only 140 characters. Also, I confess that I've tried and often fail to follow the "Kill Your Darlings" advice. But that advice can be helpful.

(2) Consider using sub-heads to signpost your main themes and break-up the block of text,

(3) Consider using Hol's facility to reduce the size of graphics or photos. It's easy to do. And easier for readers.  If they want to view a chart full-size  they simply click on the small version.

(4) Encourage other people who are also passionate about Hornsey Town Hall to post on HoL about their own experience and ideas.

Many people are worried about the diminishing number of civic/public buildings. They signal: place; shared history; and collective interests. The drive to sell them or knock them down is entirely understandable for financial reasons. But very bad for democracy, for local identity and civic pride.

Your attention span a bit limited  Gerry ?

The LBH flagrant contempt for democracy and the taxpayers merits pages and pages of criticism.

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