Labour leadership urged to promise ballots for tenants on regeneration estates
Discussions over proposed manifesto pledges continue with backbenchers warning against watering down yes/no votes
12 February, 2018 — By Richard Osley
THE Labour leadership at the Town Hall is under pressure to promise a straightforward ballot to tenants on estates wrapped up in regeneration property deals – before work begins.
Several backbench councillors want the pledge to be locked into the party’s manifesto ahead of the May council elections in the wake of the political crisis in neighbouring Haringey, which has stemmed from a controversial property strategy.
Leader Georgia Gould and Danny Beales, the council’s regeneration chief, briefed the Labour group over the weekend about plans to bring in a policy known as Camden’s People’s Regeneration Pledge. An email to councillors said: “This will mean that we always seek the support of current and potential residents as part of our estate regeneration projects and will only proceed if we have this support.”
Sceptics within the party, however, want this stance to be hardened to a clear pledge to hold ballots on estates. They also want assurances that the power for existing tenants to have a decisive say on the future of their homes and estates will not be watered down by potentially allowing everybody on the waiting list for social housing to take part in the vote.
Their view on the wording “potential residents” is that anybody waiting for a home would naturally vote in favour of regeneration work regardless of whether it is suitable or the right deal.
Backstage discussions in Camden follow the dramatic scenes in Haringey where Cllr Gould’s counterpart, Claire Kober, has resigned as leader following a clash over the Haringey Development Vehicle, a property deal for council land struck with developer Lendlease and worth around £2billion.
Supporters said it was a pragmatic way to fund new and improved homes at a time of slashed budgets, while opponents argued it was a surrender of public land without the explicit support of tenants which should have been sought through a ballot. An ugly row, characterised as exposing fault lines within the Labour Party, has seen councillors deselected ahead of the elections and claims of bad behaviour between the warring camps.
In Camden, a group of Labour councillors and election candidates including the council’s cabinet member for housing, Meric Apak, this week wrote to the New Journal welcoming the fact that the HDV is likely to be spiked in the wake of Cllr Kober’s resignation. They said the process in Haringey had seen a “lack of consultation” and a “closed-door manner”, accusations rejected by Cllr Kober’s supporters.
Although he did not name-check Haringey, party leader Jeremy Corbyn had called for estate regeneration ballots at his conference speech last autumn. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Friday that he too wanted mandatory tenant ballots on estates where projects involve demolition. He suggested that, in cases where City Hall support was needed, funding would be withheld unless one was held.
Cllr Gould refused to add her name to a letter last month from 70 council leaders supporting Cllr Kober, the leader of Haringey for a decade. Camden has already rejected a HDV-style arrangement and opted for a project-by-project approach known as the Community Investment Programme.
Labour leaders are particularly proud of regeneration work around the Bacton, Wendling and West Kentish Town estates. While the CIP has led to some localised disputes, often on the grounds of size and scale, there has been nothing like the protests seen in Haringey. It is understood several party figures are keen to avoid a repeat on this side of the borough boundary.
Cllr Gould said her party’s final manifesto would be unveiled in March, with ballots set to be among the promises. But she said vulnerable people on the waiting list and in temporary accommodation “need a voice too”.
“We plan to strengthen the already very strong engagement pledge we have on estate regeneration. Current and future tenants will have a yes/no say,” she said.