Stunted development plans in north London borough could have implications for developer-local government relationships

What’s happening now in Haringey, north London, is a microcosm of what’s to come if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wins a general election. The area is in desperate need of regeneration. Blighted by poor infrastructure and a chronic undersupply of homes, the area’s social housing is in need of major improvement. There’s a £2bn public private partnership regeneration scheme with Lendlease on the table which would transform the area, creating 6,500 homes and a better environment. It’s a good scheme from a forward thinking developer committed to doing the right thing in an area of desperate need. Lendlease is saying and doing all the right things. It’s a big contract for the developer and exactly where it wants to play. 

So far, so good. But the scheme’s not been given the final nod yet despite the bulk of the preparatory work and approvals having been agreed. And now there’s a real chance of the decision being reversed in May’s local elections. Why? Because at the heart of the local authority there is an ideological power struggle at play. It’s between a set of realist, commercially pragmatic, visionary types determined to push the scheme through, and a bunch of hard left activists aligned to an organised group of Corbyn supporters known as Momentum. This group of politically savvy operators is working hard to stop the housing scheme in the name of anti-privatisation – it does not, of course, vouchsafe an alternative.

Now, it seems, Momentum is likely to seize control of the local authority and stop what they deem to be bad development. They have tirelessly worked a manoeuvre that will see their candidates selected for the Labour seats up for grabs. And, as Haringey is a historic safe Labour stronghold, it is likely they’ll be voted in and the trick will be pulled off. It’s an example of activism at its best. And done in the name of a local community fighting back against the big bad developers. Meanwhile, Claire Kober, the council’s visionary leader, who championed the scheme with Lendlease, has resigned while making a thinly veiled swipe at the behaviour of the Corbyn gang within her own party. 

You could argue that what is happening is simply reflecting a changing mood sweeping the country, one fuelled by inefficiencies in public private schemes and a mistrust of big business. Carillion’s collapse has only confirmed the left’s hostility towards private capital. At its heart this is an example of how Corbyn and his ideological soulmates want to see privately financed schemes stopped in their tracks. But it’s also, to be fair, about a community of socially housed tenants not wanting to be displaced from their homes – they have been fed on a diet of mistruths, among them that they will be relocated to Newcastle or some other far flung place. Some on the left label it “social cleansing”, adding to an atmosphere of mistrust. Some locals simply don’t want the change redevelopment brings and don’t believe they will get a better deal at the end of it. Of course it doesn’t help when the promised social housing provision on some regeneration projects across London fails to materialise post development.  

So why does it matter? It matters because if this plays out as expected, it sets the area back at least five years and Lendlease will have lost any confidence when determining whether to develop in difficult political areas or not. A pile of construction work will stall and the supply chain and local economy and community will suffer. It matters too because it gives the more disruptive Corbyn supporters and Momentum, well, even more momentum. Fresh from victory in Haringey, where will they turn their attention to next? Surrounding Haringey are relatively stable Labour councils such as Waltham Forest, Hackney and Enfield. Will Momentum’s success spread disruption to other schemes? And it matters because there isn’t a credible alternative on the table. What’s Corbyn’s plan – more state borrowing? State-backed development and an explosion in council housing through local borrowing? We simply don’t know. And so it matters because ideological objection is stalling development, denting confidence and putting back any hope of alleviating the housing crisis for many years to come. 

Corbyn needs to provide his vision for change quickly – big picture visions of a European customs union aren’t enough. He needs to instil confidence among investors, contractors and the wider public. But sadly, he seems more interested in raising ideological flags. The upshot is a big, fat, political mess.

A deprived area of Haringey will remain deprived for much longer than it needs to be and everyone will be out of pocket. That, you worry, is anything but momentum.