Red Dawn: A New Threat to Development in London?
Anyone who’s been following the local politics of Haringey over the past few months will have noticed a radical shift to the left in terms of the candidates who will be standing to represent Labour in the borough this May.
It’s extremely likely that many of those Labour candidates will win, some gaining new seats and most gaining increased majorities, as Jeremy Corbyn’s party paints the capital red.
It’s not just Haringey, but in Lambeth, Lewisham and across London, a similar battle is being played out between existing centrist Labour councillors and the new Socialist grassroots movement; Momentum.
‘Regeneration’ and even ‘Affordable housing’ have become dirty words. Anyone who’s hosted a public exhibition for a new development proposal over the past few years will be have experienced a growing cynicism from local residents. Many Londoners no longer trust this terminology.
People increasingly believe that regeneration only benefits the rich, rather the wider community. Many see affordable homes as ‘un-affordable’, and with price tags for affordable homes surpassing £1million, they’re not wrong.
Momentum have tapped into this discontent and are playing upon a widespread suspicion of new development. This has gone far beyond simple Nimbyism. It’s now ‘People before Profit’ and ‘Anti-Privatisation of Public Land’.
Dismantling major regeneration projects backed by Labour-run councils has become a major campaign objective for some Momentum groups.
In Haringey, a Joint Venture between the council and Lendlease, plans to deliver around 2,000 affordable homes. However, the Haringey Delivery Vehicle (HDV) is under siege from Momentum activists who are calling for the partnership to be axed. Their campaign has so far seen the selection of anti-HDV candidates in key seats across the borough, coupled with an announcement from Alan Strickland, the councillor in charge of Planning, confirming he will stand down at this May’s local elections.
Strickland and the authority’s Leader, Claire Kober, are now doing all they can, this side of May, to ensure that the HDV becomes an un-reversible done-deal.
This highlights a key battle which is being replicated in Town Halls across the country. Experienced centrist Labour councillors know that Government are not going to provide them with the money they need to build new affordable homes any time soon. Neither do they have their own resources to do this. The only option they have is to utilise the land at their disposal, and work alongside the private sector, to deliver the affordable housing they so urgently need.
However, for many emerging grassroots Labour activists, this approach represents selling-off the family jewels. Once this land has been flogged off to developers, its gone for good. Furthermore, many of the deals drawn up between councils and developers have not provided enough genuinely affordable housing, and the quality of affordable homes – often built into the less desirable sides of developments – are not of the high standards many of these activists aspire to.
The irony is not lost on existing Labour Councillors, who face a huge battle to hold onto their positions of power post-May - not from opposition councillors - but from their own fellow party members. They will say that their hands have been tied, with Government policy only allowing them to deliver the much-needed affordable homes through partnerships with private developers.
However, the next generation of Momentum Councillors will accuse existing Councillors of not being innovative enough to find new ways of delivering these homes; not working hard enough to lobby Government for more resources to deliver their own homes; and not being brave enough to stand up to developers who don’t deliver the right quantity or the right quality of affordable homes.
What will happen?
In October 2017 we saw Barratt walk away from Enfield’s Meridian Water development after being accused of asking for “unacceptable” terms to deliver this ambitious deal. We may see more developers voting with their feet and simply exiting those boroughs who aren’t prepared to work in partnership. There are plenty of places that will. Look at Manchester, who proudly showcase how well they work in partnership with developers – and are known to focus more on design and delivery, rather than affordability.
Could there be an exodus of developers from London, instead choosing to work with more pragmatic and open for business authorities, outside the capital? Maybe, but land values in London are still high enough to attract investment opportunities. Equally, London is still exciting and important enough to incentivise enough developers to want to make projects work.
Those developers who do decide to stay in the capital and continue to invest in London, will require a greater political insight than ever before. Just as important is an increased readiness to engage with local politicians and their communities.
Quatro will be closely following the 2018 Local Election campaign across London over the next few months and will keep all of our clients regularly updated. Importantly, after the results come in, we’ll also be monitoring the AGM process which will take place across each London borough in May, to see who will make-up the new council cabinets. Our money is on a whole host of new Council Leaders and Portfolio Leads across London.
So, if you have a scheme that may be affected by the local elections, or if there might be a changing of the guard at a local authority you plan on working with, contact Quatro for specialist strategic advice and support. Our services are extensive, covering political engagement, strategic communications and community consultation. We look forward to working with you and guiding you through this new and complex political landscape!