The campaign against the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) has been thrust into the national spotlight. Ordinary people have fought back and are on the cusp of defeating international property developers and a right wing Labour council.
The fight matters for everyone who is facing cuts and attacks.
It exposes not only Labour’s cosy links with developers but also the limits of the Labour left. And it shows how campaigns can successfully fight back.
Labour’s Haringey council leader Claire Kober recently announced that she would stand down after the May local elections.
Her defeat is a victory for everyone who wants to defend council housing—but it does not mean the HDV is finished.
The right wing are desperate to beat the anti-HDV campaign. It’s been attacked as a left wing plot within the Labour Party, and as riven with sexism and antisemitism. None of the charges have stuck because they’re not true.
But they’re far from the only lies put around about the HDV. Right wing councillors have claimed that residents were consulted properly.
At a meeting on Wednesday of last week, councillor Kaushika Amin said she had personally knocked on people’s doors. But tenants and residents at the Northumberland Park estate—the first one to be demolished if the HDV goes through—told Socialist Worker this wasn’t true.
“There’s been no consultation, no knocking on doors,” Northumberland Park resident Moriam Islam told Socialist Worker back in April 2017.
Almost a year later, nothing has changed.
“No one’s been consulted about it whatsoever,” Franklin Thomas told Socialist Worker last week. “They’ve just jumped in and said everything will be fine.”
Franklin lives on the Northumberland Park estate and believes the council has deliberately run it down to justify the redevelopment.
“I think it’s called managed decline,” he said. “I have never seen the area so dirty.”
Residents got leaflets through the door asking, among other questions, if they’d like nicer homes.
“Who wouldn’t say yes to that?” Franklin asked. “The question is, what did the council do with that information? It became the basis of their ‘consultation’.”
Lead councillor for regeneration Alan Strickland said last Wednesday, “It’s not for me or anyone else to tell tenants and leaseholders what they should do, where they should go or how they should live. That’s why tenant choice is at the heart of everything we do.”
But tenants were never given a real choice—it was up to campaigners and residents to tell people about the council’s plans.
At the same meeting Northumberland Park resident Sam Legatt said, “The term consultation is a little misleading. I remember going to a fun day and we were invited to put leaves on a tree and write on them what we would like to see in the area.
“As far as I remember not one of those leaves said I would like to see my home knocked down.”
News about the redevelopment came as a shock to people living on the estate. “They never said anything about demolition,” said Franklin.
Moriam became involved in the campaign after she attended a Stop HDV meeting. “I was thinking whatever is happening I can’t let it happen because it would be like lying dead,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to fight for my home, I’m going to fight for my community.’
“I’m not going to let anyone tell me how I’m going to live—it should be up to me to decide.
Alison, a resident on the estate and a local activist, described how they began to get organised.
“A few years ago we became aware the council had plans to knock down the estate,” she said. “The council didn’t admit to that for a long time.
“We formed a group called Northumberland Park Decides to inform residents,” she said. “At that time residents had no information from the council apart from the fact there was going to be some regeneration. There were some very glamorous pictures of what the area could look like.
“Eventually people did start saying we need to do something about this. We called a meeting and about 45 people came to the first one. We had it in a church hall and we adopted the name Northumberland Park Decides.
“That was in June 2016. We’ve had meetings once a month since then.”
Last Wednesday’s meeting marked an important point in the fight against the HDV. A motion called for the HDV to be scrapped.
But 46 councillors backed an amendment postponing the final decision on the HDV until after the May election.
Whether the motion would have stood legally is arguable. But that misses the point. If councillors had voted for it, that would have been a clear rallying cry to all those looking for hope.
The amendment was a compromise with the Labour right. The vote raises the question of how far the Labour left will go to fight social cleansing and estate regeneration elsewhere in the future.
Labour’s National Executive Committee recently intervened to ask Haringey to reconsider the HDV scheme. Jeremy Corbyn has promised that a Labour government would compel councils to ballot tenants and residents on estate regenerations.
These are hugely positive developments.
Conditions for left wing Labour councillors to defy Tory austerity could hardly be more ideal. And it would be very difficult for the council leadership to withdraw the whip from them following the NEC’s intervention.
That is why last Wednesday’s deal with the right is all the more concerning. Moriam said she felt “very let down” by the vote. “My expectation was that now the truth is out there that they would bury the HDV once and for all,” she said.
“Who knows what’s going to happen after the election? They might change their minds.
“If they really supported us they should have voted against the HDV and that would have been the end.”
Labour councillors opposed to the HDV attacked Liberal Democrat councillors who brought the original motion as opportunistic. That’s probably true—and moving the motion to scrap the HDV, Lib Dem Gail Engert said the scheme could have taken place on a smaller, trial basis.
Councillor Emine Ibrahim pointed out the Lib Dems could have objected to the proposals sooner.
The same charge can be said of some of her Labour colleagues.
The Labour left should prioritise opposing the HDV, not avoiding being seen to do what the Lib Dems want. People’s homes should come before political wrangling.
Anti-HDV councillors are likely to take control of the council after May’s local elections. They will be confronted by a series of questions.
Firstly, will they be able to reverse the HDV? Claire Kober said the “final” decision on the project will be left to the new council leadership. However, the Labour right may be able to push through deals in the interim.
And last year the Labour left lined up with the right to vote through a separate redevelopment project in the borough. They did this to retain the party whip in a period before the NEC’s intervention. It shows that they cannot be relied on to act on principle in housing struggles.
Secondly, 22 councillors have declared against the HDV, but not necessarily against any redevelopment projects that involve demolitions. How will a left wing Labour council provide the homes people need in the face of Tory cuts to council funding?
One option councillors are considering is a council tax increase of 100 percent. That would be an intolerable burden on ordinary people.
For all these reasons the campaign must keep the pressure up. It can give the new council leadership in May more confidence to defy austerity – and pressure it if it looks like it will cave in.
The right wing of the Labour Party, along with the national media, have focused on the fight over the HDV within the Labour Party. They want to lessen the importance of the movement on the estates and on the streets.
Among all the political manoeuvring it can be easy to forget just how devastating being forced to move will be for people.
“We have a lot of elderly people living here who have given their lives to this society,” said Moriam. “Now they want to live and die here peacefully.
“There are people with illnesses—these people are not going to survive a move. If they move us we’re dead.”
The driving force of the campaign has been ordinary people fighting for their homes. They have put the prospect of a reinvigorated housing movement on the cards.
What is the HDV?
The Haringey Development Vehicle is a special purpose vehicle.
These are separate “entities” set up by companies or other bodies, like councils, to manage assets.
They allow organisations to farm out risk—if the company folds the parent organisation doesn’t share its fate, supposedly.
The HDV would see seven estates demolished in a £2 billion deal.
Some 4,000 people would be kicked out of their homes if the HDV goes ahead.
Who are Lendlease?
Lendlease is Haringey council’s 50/50 partner in the HDV.
It is an international property developer with a shady reputation.
The firm admitted to fraud in the US in 2012. It had overcharged the government and private companies for work.
Its fine amounted to almost £45 million.
In Britain Lendlease redeveloped the Heygate estate in Southwark, south London. It gave gifts of Olympics tickets to the Labour council leader Peter John.
Residents were told everyone would have the right of return after redevelopment, but just three households were able to move back to the Heygate.
Some Southwark councillors went on to work for Lendlease.
Some in Labour think the firm was just the wrong partner for the council’s redevelopment project and that another could take its place. But Lendlease is just one shark in an ocean full of them. We need to get rid of them all.