We must support StART and this is how
January 10, 2019
The route to a political solution is to answer the question, “what would we like to happen?” and use the answer to that question as the guide to making it happen.
In terms of housing in Haringey if you asked most people they would state that they would want the provision of truly affordable homes for all residents of the Borough. Who provides the homes is much less of a concern. Most people would probably say that as long as they were truly affordable now and forever they really don’t care who provides them. Given a choice between homes held in Trust by the community itself, the Council or private developers there would most likely be consensus around the first two.
People are tiring of multinationals and their bulldozers and all their unaffordable houses.
Finance capitalism turned homes into ATM machines but like everything in a casino economy there are
winners and losers and always more losers than winners. People need homes not cash machines.
In 2015 the NHS decided that the bell had tolled on St Ann’s Hospital Primary Care Trust and it was time to get the bulldozers in and sell off the land to developers. The mental health hospital which had occupied the site for over 100 years would remain, the one bright light in this sorry episode. With only 14% of the land being allocated for “affordable” with the fuzziest definition of what that actually means, this was essentially
a give-away of public land to the financial prospectors and rentiers. And this decision was made before the
2017 Naylor Review which proposed the mass sell-off of NHS land to raise revenue for a service which in
reality should be fully-funded by the government without any private profiteering interference at all.
In the same year that the privatisers had decided on the fate of a critical public service on invaluable public
land a group of local community activists got together to ask the residents of St Ann’s ward the question,
“what would we like to happen?” The answer was simple: retain the site as a community asset. Build homes.
Build homes that locals can actually afford.
Known as the St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust this group have worked tirelessly the last few years in order to
bring about a real-world answer to that question. Raising thousands of pounds to develop
architectural plans for a development that places health and the environment at it core built on the foundation
of real affordability for local people.
Haringey suffers from an acute housing crisis with over 10,000 people living in temporary accommodation,
half of which are children. The Council has pledged to build 1000 Council homes over the next four years the
delivery of which will help transform this picture for the better but the Borough’s homeless problem will persist.
In addition to this, as large tracts of land are bought up by developers intent on wealth extraction the price of
property has risen beyond the means of the sons and daughters of those already living in the Borough forcing
them out. Their situation is not so bad that they qualify for social housing but bad enough that they are forced
to leave the area. What can be done for them? What can be done to ensure we have a strong, vibrant and
Since 2015 the only group fighting to protect the St Ann’s site from rapacious developers has been StART.
The Council had other priorities, focusing on inward investment and regeneration. The idea that a bunch of
locals might want to take control of land that was already theirs did not fit with a vision that saw the future
of neighbourhoods through the lens of multinationals. The Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) in which
the Council would enter a deal with a mega-developer to essentially gift land to the private sector for the
public good was revealed to be the worst of all worlds. The only entity that should profit from a deal
involving public land should be the public itself. The HDV was based on basic trickle-down economics.
Apologists for that philosophy are fast becoming relics. The last three decades just haven’t realised the
promise of one of the fundamentals of neoliberalism. A rising tide raises all boats but only if evenly
distributed. Finance casino capitalism is not in the business of even distribution.
StART never gave up, rose in numbers and professionalism, pooling the local human resources in order to fight
for a community development which would raise all boats. The plans they had drawn up by crowdfunding tens
of thousands of pounds envisioned 800 homes in a space which focused on retaining the site’s health legacy,
its biodiversity and environmental sustainability. Several hundred local residents and tens of businesses joined
StART in an act of group solidarity. StART members would not receive nomination rights to any of the
properties but would be part of a mass action declaring the land public and demanding ownership for the
Throughout this the Council did and said nothing. They left it to fate, the market. The Council had bigger fish to
fry and anyway why should it concern itself with this? The question as to whether it was better to back and
empower local residents over multinationals was never asked. But the StART campaign never waned and
this brought the site to Mayor’s attention. Sadiq Khan and the Greater London Assembly (GLA) had set-up
a rolling fund the purpose of which was to enable the building of affordable homes for Londoners.
The Land Fund of £250 million would buy land and resell it under the condition that any development would
be 50% affordable. This was a massive improvement on the original stipulation of 14% affordable for sure.
The bar had been raised and the GLA, understanding the importance to the local community of StART,
went into discussions with them as to the future of the site and the role the community land trust could play.
At this point it might seem like we have reached the happy ending everyone had been campaigning for. StART
and the GLA walk hand in hand into the sunset. A victory for the community.
If only this were the case. Every silver lining has a cloud.
First of all, what is the actual outcome of the GLA using the Land Fund to buy the site? The land remains in
public hands but only for a very brief time. The GLA fund is a rolling fund and each purchase is resold and the
profits poured back in the fund. There is no gifting of land more a gifting of affordability specifications.
50% instead of 14%. However, the land will be put out to tender to the private sector, essentially sold to the
very same multinationals who have caused all the controversy in Haringey in the first place. For sure, they
will be on a shorter leash but it is well known that even under these conditions they have means of subverting
their planning covenants through secret viability assessments and the like. Furthermore, public land will be passed
into private hands.
Haringey Council, under new management, has been paying attention. They have met with members of StART
on a number of occasions and joined them and the GLA on tours of the site. There is, at last, some dialogue.
However, time is running out. The GLA have no intention of developing the land themselves and therefore will
want to put it out to tender sooner rather than later.
Therefore, if the good of the community is to be entrenched in any deal with a developer then it is absolutely
essential that StART are at the core of that deal. It should be clear to anyone that StART represent David in
this story. There are many Goliaths. The GLA is one and Haringey Council is one. The developers stand as another.
They can be allies and enablers for the public good or allies and enablers for distant shareholdsers. The choice is
simple and stark. One can propose arguments why Goliath cannot step in on the side of David but that doesn’t alter the nature
of the choice before us.
This is where Haringey Council can use their considerable power at the local level to help direct the negotiations
towards the desired outcome and to exert leverage in order to answer the question, “what would we like to
happen?” In fact, it must since what is at stake is our land whose future must be in the hands of those who we
want to live on it. If Haringey Council is determined to draw a line under gentrification then it must not abdicate
its responsibility in this.
If it wants to put down its marker as a truly progressive council with the housing needs of residents at the core
of its planning then it is here that it can do so.
And this is how it can.
Section 79 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 defines a community land trust (CLT) as a body established
“for the express purpose of furthering the social, economic and environmental interests of a local community by
acquiring and managing land.” The final part of this sentence is fundamental, we’ll come back to that shortly.
The Act goes on to state that the purpose of a CLT is to “provide a benefit to the local community” by ensuring
that “the assets are not sold or developed except in a manner which the trust’s members think benefit the local
community.” This is critical. The members of StART total 400 individuals and 50 local businesses and community
groups. It is through these people that decisions regarding the site are made. This number could grow dramatically
if a final deal was struck that put them at the heart of all future plans.
Section 79 goes on to state that the CLT is there to ensure that any profits from its business are put back into the
community for the benefit of the community.
In other words, a community land trust such as StART must be owned and democratically controlled by local
residents for the good of all local residents.
What’s not to like? The creation of a locally accountable body to own and manage local assets. This is achieved
effectively by owning the freehold to the site. Only by owning the freehold can the aims of the CLT be entrenched
in perpetuity. It’s all about the land!The land is bought and kept in the community, passed down through the generations
guaranteeing either leaseholds and/or rentals at a rate linked permanently to local incomes.
The real power is in acquiring the land. By owning the freehold the CLT can deliver on its promise.
Of course the cost of the freehold will determine the extent to which it can deliver truly affordable homes
across the entire development but StART believe that they could still manage around 65%. But without the land
they are beholden to the developers and if the last 30 years have taught us anything it is that the developers will
inevitably price the locals out.
Haringey like most councils in the country is being stretched financially beyond breaking point. This is true when
it comes to revenue but when it comes to capital and its ability to borrow at record low interest rates from central
government for capital expenditure it is a completely different story.
And we are talking about land. In central London. Land which has had an hospital on it for over 100 years. Land
that has developers circling, hungry for a piece of it. The choice then is simple – do we let developers own the land
or Haringey residents own it? What would be the different outcomes?
If developers are allowed to land then there can be no guarantee that they will be determined to build in the interests
of local residents. There is some credible evidence that they would be motivated more by profit and this
motivation may leak into the early stages as they attempt to bend planning rules and restrictions, possibly using
secret viability assessments, in order to not supply the agreed number of affordable homes. Perhaps the
developers will be guided by a different light and altruistic principles and sideline the desire for profits in
exchange for the well-being of the community.
But surely the question is still – who do we want as Haringey residents to own our land? Answer the question
and then decide how we can bring about that outcome.
It is important to note that the aim would always be for any housing development to become self-financing
through rents and sales. Even before that the scheme has the ability to produce a social return by creating and
supporting local jobs, mobilising local expertise and engaging with and promoting the local supply chain.
Bristol, Brighton, Denbighshire, Redbridge, Liverpool, Eden, Cornwall and Devon are all councils which have
gone into partnerships with CLTs, in many cases gifting the land to the trust, in others using revolving loans, grants and
The sheer size of the local authority in relation to the local economy allows it to leverage funds and resources
that the CLT or even other local businesses could only dream of. The council can enable the CLT to access
gap funding and even commercial loans if necessary and can assist in brokering deals with housing associations and
investors such as pension funds as well as other local authorities.
StART should not be the only example of a community land trust in Haringey and the council should be actively
promoting the model as a path to greater democratic participation. Haringey is in the midst of a housing crisis
and CLTs should be playing an important role in the solution. It could set a corporate strategy for community-led
housing in order to form a supportive framework for them, pledging officer time to scoping new opportunities
and looking at ways in which it can make the planning process more user-friendly.
This approach asks for a little courage to think outside the box. It expects the council to look for business partners
– in the public sector and the private sector. It demands the council ask the question, “what would we like to happen?”
and set out to make it happen.