A London borough is transferring most of its social housing to a private developer. What is it thinking?

The Broadwater Farm estate. Image: Iridescenti/Wikimedia Commons.

The Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), the North London borough’s revolutionary regeneration joint venture/hair-brained public asset giveaway (delete according to ideological persuasion), is thought to be one of the largest transfers of public land into a public/private partnership ever. It involves property estimated to be worth a total of £2bn once the redevelopment has been completed.

And it’s the opposite of the recently mooted, then dodged, Tory pledge to build more council housing. For how can councils build anything if they’ve given all their land and property away?

While public-private partnerships are by no means new, this carefree transfer of private land is part of a broader, scarier, yard sale of public property (the stuff that we all collectively own) to private companies (the things that no one is 100 per cent sure who really owns).

Here’s how the HDV works. Haringey Council will enter into a 50:50 joint partnership with Australian developer Lendlease. The former brings to the table some highly attractive parcels of what it considers to be 'low value' developable land (that is, housing estates and community buildings); Lendlease puts in the capital and construction expertise.

Profits from the sale and rent of the new housing will be shared by the joint-venture company’s partners, providing an income for the council. Bingo! Lots of shiny new apartments on the site of some shabby blocks that are letting the borough’s new image down, some nice new well-heeled, low-maintenance homeowners making the area look good, housing targets ticked off, and some much-needed moolah for the council to spend on everyday civic essentials such as libraries, community care, local infrastructure, and bin collections.

But if it’s such a good deal, why is the Labour council facing such opposition? Why is it opposed by, amongst others, 20 Labour members of Haringey Council (and allegedly a couple of the cabinet); the 19 Labour-party branch leaders across Hornsey & Wood Green; local Labour MPs; local campaign groups 2bn Pound Gamble, Stop the HDV, and Haringey Defend Council Housing; and poet/writer/national treasure Michael Rosen?

And why should those of us who don’t live in Haringey be absolutely terrified? Here are eight reasons.

1. The income is uncertain

The time period between tenants moving out and new apartments being completed and able to provide a new rental stream could leave the council with a hiatus in its income. Throw in long-term uncertainty over interest rates, prime ministers, Brexit and so on, and it becomes impossible to calculate the costs and profits of any redevelopment project. When it's on such a large scale, the risk is even greater.

Such fluctuations help give developers leverage to renege on agreed percentages of affordable housing, arguing that they would make the scheme not ‘viable’ – a weasel word, previously seen in the redevelopments of south London's Heygate Estate, Battersea Power Station, and so on. Allow developers to dodge the 35 per cent ‘affordable’ housing quota (even though, you’ll recall, it’s often not actually affordable) renders any national legislation on such quotas meaningless.

 2. What if the developer pulls out?

The joint venture agreement is currently for 20 years – but what if Lendlease decides to pull out during that time? Or goes bust? Or is taken over? These are important questions, to which the answers aren’t currently clear.

3. The existing residents aren’t necessarily the ones who’ll benefit

Stop me if this sounds familiar. Haringey’s headline promise is that “council tenants have a guaranteed right of return on equivalent terms”, once the new homes are built.

But according to Haringey Defend Council Housing – a campaign group, which has put in the hours to wade through redacted documents, 100-page reports and cabinet meeting minutes so that you don’t have to – the HDV’s actual business plans “will prioritise a single move for residents rather than right of return” and “do not allow for rehousing of housing association tenants”.

 You may recall that at the aforementioned Heygate Estate (now rebranded Elephant Park) similar promises were made; only three council families returned. Meanwhile, according to campaign groups 35percent.org and heygatewashome.org, home owners forced to sell found themselves quite a few bob short of what they needed to buy back into the area. But that was a different borough and a different – oh wait, I beg your pardon, that was Lendlease again.

In other words, there is a growing disconnect between improving things for a borough and improving them for its inhabitants. The space someone's home once occupied might have become a fragrant oasis, but they’ve been forced out to a sink estate in Essex. 

4. Communities will disappear

If residents are shipped out of an area while demolition and rebuilding take place, they won't be able to put their lives on hold for five, ten, or more years in the hope of moving back. A new community will, over time, grow in its place, engineered by teams of well-meaning placemakers naming tower blocks after former Spurs strikers. But the people who currently rely on regular contact from a local support network – the elderly; those with physical/psychological/medical needs; parents; the self-employed, and locally employed – will be cut adrift.


5. This is one of the country’s most deprived boroughs

The HDV will need to generate enough money to a) build new homes and b) make a profit for Lendlease shareholders. So some of the new homes will need to be sold or rented for as much money as the HDV can get away with.

“It's just wrong to have a housing policy that's reliant on building loads of housing at levels that people already living here can't afford,” says Paul Burnham of Haringey Defend Council Housing. “That is going to drive out of the area people who live here at the moment. It's US-style social policy. It doesn't work. We don't want it. And we're not going to have it.”

6. Even the local MPs are against it

In a Labour-on-Labour epistolary punch up, local Labour MPs David Lammy (Tottehnam) and Catherine West (Hornsey & Wood Green) wrote to council leader Claire Kober on 3 July insisting that there should be “no overall reduction in the number of homes in the borough that are wholly owned and managed by the council”. Sadly councils are under no obligation to take any notice. 

7. No one asked the people whose homes are about to be demolished

Yes, the old “no public consultation” chestnut.

At one of the first HDV public meetings on the Northumberland Park Estate earlier this year, some residents recalled being surveyed on whether they wanted improvements to their housing – but not whether they wanted their existing estate, including the primary school, bulldozed and replaced with private housing while they went and lived somewhere else.

Okay, consultation costs money, and money's in short supply for local authorities, but it’s still a legal requirement – a point the campaign group Stop Haringey Development Vehicle (SHDV) is helpfully pointing out by taking the council/HDV to judicial review. (The hearing is set for 25-26 October.)

An alternative, for which HDCH is currently campaigning, is for residents to be given a vote on demolition of their estates. That would mean regeneration were done as a genuine denizen-developer partnership, not via global companies with no local accountability. If successful (it's a long shot), this too could set a national precedent.

8. This is not how we should be funding essential services

Councils are skint – so the trend for selling off assets, or exchanging planning permissions for handouts from private developers in the form of Community Infrastructure Levies or Section 106 monies, would seem to make sense.

This is in the same way that swapping your shared house for a roast dinner might make sense if you were hungry, until you’ve eaten the dinner, are still hungry, have nothing to live in and nothing else to swap, and have three ex-housemates protesting that they can't move to Arse-End on Sea because it's 250 miles from where they work.

Rather than continuing to excuse councils, shouldn't we be addressing how else they might find money or provide services?

* * * * *

All of the above has already been seen, to some degree, on other regeneration projects. What is particularly terrifying about the HDV is its scale. A Labour borough is saying it has no option but to hand the majority of its land over to private developers, and ignoring the voice of its citizens. It is an ideological admission of defeat, a wholesale abandonment of the public to the private, a declaration that physical place matters more than actual people.

And when we no longer own our own cities – what then? 

The judicial review of the HDV will be held Wednesday and Thursday (25-26 October) at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, London WC2. Members of the Stop the HDV Campaign and other Haringey residents will be protesting outside from 9am both days.

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.