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Connecting Crouch End and Hornsey with news, views and information

On Friday afternoon of 20th October 2017 7 associated things happened more or less simultaneously:

  1.  Haringey School Holidays started
  2.   A number of important papers and a revised deadline were published on the Haringey Planning website
  3.  The Haringey Planning website took the weekend off (so I have not seen the papers referred to in 2) yet)
  4.  Crouch End's Labour Party published a blog
  5. Haringey's Publicity machine published a news release
  6. All 7 of the Nolan Principles for Conduct in Public Life were indirectly threatened
  7. A wave of indignation swept over Crouch End 

The net result of all this is that the three Labour councillors in Crouch End, appear to have achieved the inclusion of affordable housing in the Hornsey Town Hall development.

All entirely without doing anything! But just to point out, the affordable housing element of the plan will be underwritten using the receipt from the sale of the Town Hall. This seems like a gift from the gods for our threee councillors.

Thanks to Hollywood.com for the loan of the image, which is actually taken from a work of fiction.

Tags: HTHbaddeal, HTHobject, dorsett, far east consortium, hornsey town hall, ojeu, planning application, tax haven

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Adrian, Your onion layers of subtlety are too many for me.
How I see it is far simpler.

Several years ago I happened to have a casual chat with the late Judy Bax, who was then a Haringey councillor and involved in the long-running discussions on whether some business plan to fund Hornsey Town Hall stacked-up or not.
Though I didn't know her well, I liked Judy and found her honest, straight talking and insightful. (I actually mean that. It's not some pious nonsense about not speaking ill of the dead.)
As Judy isn't around to correct and critique me, I'll stick only to what I remember as her key point. Which was that anybody could write a business plan which added-up by getting enough public money.

I've remembered that in many situations where various bodies came to the Council requesting or expecting leases, land, grants, soft loans, and other "support" from the public purse. It seems to me that the deal now lauded by Natan Doron, Jason Arthur and Sarah Elliot appears to be considering the most generous arrangement with a commercial corporation I ever heard about in sixteen years as a Haringey councillor.

In this I'm looking at the letter from Ms Emma Williamson to Cllrs Arthur, Doron and Elliot. Which is posted on the Crouch End Labour Party website. A rather dubious and perhaps foolish place for the Chair of Planning and the "Cabinet Member for Finance" to post a senior officer's letter about these "robust negotiations" with FEC - the Far East Consortium.

One of my concerns is that Planning negotiations with developers should - surely - not be matters for announcement on Party Political websites. And especially since we are coming up to six months before the London local elections on 3 May
Robust negotiations? Or bust negotiations? I'd have thought that the last thing in negotiations is for the chair of Planning and the Cabinet member for Finance to reveal the council's final offer to the world.

But now consider what to me seem the most worrying sentences in Ms Williamson's letter. In its second paragraph.

"It is critical that a decision is made on the application in a timely fashion and therefore to ensure that it can progress to committee in December the Council has agreed to put its land receipt into the scheme, as a last resort, if necessary to underwrite these units whilst we continue to negotiate with the developer to secure the maximum level of affordable housing. It is clearly the Council’s preference that the developer will contribute funds to secure affordable housing and that we do not ultimately need to use our land receipt, unless the council proactively chooses to do so to secure further affordable housing."

What this seems to mean is the ultimate Council-pays-Business-Plan. It stacks up because the Council will if necessary give back the purchase price as well as losing the Town Hall, the Green, and all the land at the rear, Unless FEC contributes extra funds so the Council can keep the purchase price. But why would FEC do that?

Have I got this wrong? Is there some ultra-clever Deep Blue Alpha Go strategy at work here which I've entirely missed? Or maybe Crouch End has a Freebie Friday custom where shops refund all the money customers have just paid for their goods?
"Here's your money back, Alan. We're rolling in cash and don't need it. And keep all the stuff you've bought. It warms our sentimental hearts. We'll gift wrap it for you." 

If so then how do I become a consortium? And is the Far East of Tottenham okay? When is Freebie Friday? Is it this week? What time does it start?

You may well be right, Alan, I have over complicated things.

I have never heard Judy Bax spoken of in any but complimentary terms. Perhaps she live in the good, old days, not in these ' rather dubious and perhaps foolish' times.

As I wrote, I didn't know Judy Bax at all well. But in conversations I recall, she often had sensible and illuminating comments. To me at least these were always couched in diplomatic terms. (Maybe Judy was  more blunt when chatting with her close colleagues? Though I somehow doubt it.)

In another conversation which stuck in my mind Judy Bax talked briefly about a shortcoming of the Leader & 'Lead Member' system which replaced the former Committee Chairs. (Now the so-called "Cabinet".)  Judy told me how, becoming lead councillor for education/children's services, she wondered "Where's the team?" A natural enough question, especially for a former headteacher used to discussions and shared decision-making in her school's Senior Management Team (SMT).

Of course not every headteacher understands and fosters teamwork. But it seemed Judy Bax did. And as I saw it, how for a while, a sort of DIY arrangement emerged where she and two other former councillors worked together informally on Children's Services / Education. A potentially useful experiment - from which nothing was learned.

Adrian, I would never suggest any "good old days". Claire Kober's Homes Destruction Viciousness is hardly alone in the Haringey Hall of appalling scandals and avoidable snafus. Though the HDV may be unique in its size, intended timescale and the sheer damage and misery it could inflict on people's homes and families.

In the past I was highly critical of Cllr Charles Adje and some of his actions when Chair of the Alexandra Palace Board. But that never involved the unforgivable right-wing policies we see now in Haringey. As Guardian journalist Aditya Chakraborrty all too accurately describes it:
"contempt for human dignity" and
"a Labour Council attacking its own people".

The Council had ample opportunity to place the objective of affordable housing into the terms of the procurement, but chose not to do so. The reasoning was that the restoration project and the provision of community use and access took precedence. I agree with them on that, but it would still have been a simple affair to include affordable into the desired outcomes. The fact that they did not now looks like a rather obvious mistake.

Meanwhile we're now well into the negotiations between various consultants attempting to agree the officially set planning obligation of affordable units. FEC will be playing hard ball (and why not), but hopefully the council's advisers, BNP Paribas, will offer a robust challenge. I doubt whether FEC would want to add the cost of an appeal, so the planners have a strong negotiating hand, but...

Unfortunately, Haringey council have waded in at exactly this moment to make their 'offer', which FEC have unsurprisingly snapped up. The developer can now agree to a higher level of affordable knowing that the taxpayer is going to stump up, and get planning consent without further delay. A win-win for FEC, as they say.

Why would Haringey do this now? Well, partly panic, partly PR I should think.

(and why the Assistant Head of Planning is announcing it heaven only knows).

It's not "Haringey" which are doing this now. It's a small select bunch. Natan Doron, Sarah Elliot, Jason Arthur and whoever else among the financial geniuses who okayed the "offer" and authorised the release of the let's-roll-over-quick-as-we-can letter.

Why not ask them, Mark? They can own-up and maybe try to brazen it out. Or perhaps hide under the duvet. Someone knows something. Will they stand-up and speak-out?  And even if they do, will anyone else act?

But worse. Much worse.
If this is how supposedly "robust negotiations" are conducted in one deal on a very valuable site, imagine what has happened and will continue to happen with the HDV and hundreds of sites? Thousands of homes, families and futures.
Or imagine down in MIPIM when Claire Kober, Joe Goldberg and Alan Strickland walk into rooms or go on board yachts where developers try to stifle their sheer glee.
Same when the Dear Leader and her "team" meet people from Spurs, or Argent, or Lendlease or any of the other profit hungry "partners".

"Hey everyone! Look who's arrived. Haringey Council's finest. And now we know we don't have to steal their sweets because when pressed they'll offer them for free!"

I think we've already had the councillors' views of the affordable thing in their original blog post. Essentially, Haringey's move was down to their work and "we will carry on campaigning for this right up until the planning committee meeting".

It is remarkable chutzpah to claim something as a campaigning success when you've paid for it yourself. I must remember to use it next time I'm at paying at the checkout ("I've been campaigning for this Waitrose box of muesli, and I now declare success and complete vindication"). Perhaps everyone should do it, it'll be very life affirming.

They haven't paid for anything themselves. Public money has paid. If they convince Labour Party members to select them and the electors to vote them back as councillors they will be quids-in.

I must echo Alan's comments about Judy Bax. Although we were from different parties, we agreed on the fabulous potential of HTH and that it should remain in some kind of public ownership. We respected each other and worked closely together to make it happen. 

I'm also aware that there must be a lot of people following this disposal wondering how we got where we are. So, with apologies in advance for any inaccuracies, omissions and typos, here is my account of the past fifteen years....

In 2002, as a brand new councilor,  I asked Haringey's then CEO about plans for Hornsey Town Hall. He assured me that Haringey were not going to have a mini omnishambles like Ally Pally on its hands and, if he could find a developer who would indemnify the council against all liabilities, he would hand over the keys for a tenner!

 

Happily, locals took a more positive approach to the building’s potential. Amenity, arts and conservation organizations, residents' campaigns and the HTH Creative Trust have consistently said that what people want in the building are education, performance and community use. More recently, small business/start up space has been added. (One lone voice mentioned a hotel.)

 

Haringey listened and, under the chair of the much missed Cllr Judy Bax, set up the Community Partnership Board to flesh-out plans for arts and other uses as well as write a business plan. When the plans had been stress-tested and agreed a Trust would be established and a long lease granted.

 

To fund the capital costs of repairs and restoration, the car park at the rear would be sold: Cllr Charles Adje made a commitment that the proceeds (then about £10m) would be ring-fenced to HTH.

 

Incidentally, in October 2017, the land is worth about £25m.

 

In 2005, London won the Olympics and nearly every penny of Lottery money was diverted to Stratford. Like so many other projects in London, HTH was unable to access Heritage Lottery funding.

 

There was also the matter of the 2008 financial crash and subsequent worldwide economic recession: scarce capital and little bank lending meant that even land in Crouch End was dropping in value. The business plan that the CPB (by then the HTH Creative Trust) had produced was also starting to look less than robust.

 

Another brake on the redevelopment has been the council's overall approach to the future of HTH – less of a regeneration opportunity, more of a disposal project.

 

Contrast this with another post-1965 redundant town hall:  Hampstead Town Hall on Haverstock Hill. Camden actively supported what has become a thriving charity called WAC Arts which provides a range of arts training for people aged 5-25.  Studio and office space is available for rent and there are services for charities and groups.

 

Enter stage left, in 2010, Mountview - a leading theatre school that was founded in Crouch End. They had a good business plan and wanted to offer ... education, performance and community use.  Financially sound, community minded they would have brought creativity and energy to the area as well as extra spending power to the Broadway.

 

The project seemed to go on too long and a review identified a serious shortfall in capital funding. Tragically, Mountview (Haringey’s last tertiary college) are now in the process of moving to Southwark.

 

With the arrival of the new Haringey CEO Nick Walkley (from easyBarnet) came a new way of thinking and a determination so sort out HTH: get the bloody thing sold and off the books. Don’t involve the community as that will only complicate things and piss off developers.

 

Haringey put aside £1.45m to fund the OJEU disposal process – a process that had been recommended by Haringey’s favourite consultants GVA.

 

The Borough wanted a risk free process so didn’t make the tender document too prescriptive by mentioning things like firm guarantees for social housing, an arts centre and community use. They didn’t even commission a valuation process before starting the disposal.

 

Hornsey Town Hall Appreciation Society was set up (2015) to make a last ditch attempt to get Haringey to work on a Community Asset Transfer. In the age of austerity this is a tool that councils using all over the country employ to keep major assets in community ownership and control.

 

Haringey wouldn’t even consider the idea, asserting they wanted a “market led solution” and preferring to spend time dining out with Terrapin Communications and swanning off to MIPIM to tout Wood Green and Tottenham council estates to (OMG it’s Christmas!!) blokes on yachts.

 

Unsurprisingly, only a few bids came in (developers want to build houses, not restore a Grade II* Art Deco town hall and then have to find things to do with it). The winner was declared in September 2016: FEC – a Hong Kong based, Cayman Islands registered company who promised to set up a subsidiary in the British Virgin Islands to actually complete the deal.

 

The winning bidder promised that they could deliver within the existing planning permission (for 126 units, four affordable) and undertake the required restoration. They also want a 67 room hotel to pay for the arts and social uses that remained vague.

 

Cllr Strickland announced the winner at Cabinet then asked for and received approval to give officers delegated power to negotiate a Development Agreement.

 

Since then, FEC has put in a new planning application – it includes two extra storeys and 20 extra luxury flats. Despite the entire project being worth in the region of £140m and they wind up with a hotel, FEC claim that it cannot squeeze in even the four affordable units. Our MP Catherine West has said that the starting point for affordable/social housing should be 50%.

 

They say that the bill to restore and regenerate HTH will be £34m – a figure wildly in excess of the £12m that had been quoted in earlier studies - but which includes the cost of conversion and fitting out of the hotel and other commercial spaces.

 

Haringey seems happy to go along with these fundamental changes to the winning bid, describing them as “design considerations.”

 

What does Haringey get out of the deal – a promise to get HTH off the Heritage England At Risk register and a capital receipt for £3.5m – the price of two large terraced houses on Weston Park.

 

But, with elections coming up and criticism about the deal the Crouch End ward councilors have expressed surprise at FEC’s revised plans and have written a stern note to FEC to say they are not happy. This is despite one of the CE councillors having had a Property Services team of officers working on this for three years and another being chair of Planning.

 

Haringey (well, the Head of Planning) is now saying that it will use the £3.5m to achieve some affordable on the site (11 units apparently) – the capital receipt will presumably be used to compensate FEC for loss of sales. Some say that Haringey announcing how much money it has in its back pocket, while in the middle of negotiations with FEC, is not the master-stroke of deal making that Kissinger would have recommended.

 

Apart from very occasional income-generating hire to large TV and film production companies, Haringey kept our Town Hall dark and off limits for the best part of a decade. Until, that is, ANA turned up three years ago, opened the building, let out office and studio spaces to 80 small businesses and started using all other parts for arts, performance, community, entertainment and fun.

 

Sadly, despite winning the hearts and approval of many in Haringey, they did not get the gig to be arts operator. Instead it has gone to Time & Space who, so far have offered a less than defined vision for HTH. Early signs suggest a venue rather than an arts centre but with lashings of digital and co-working.

 

Our Town Hall had the potential to be a fantastic resource that would benefit not just Crouch End and Haringey but North London as a whole and be able, as Judy Bax foresaw, to play a big role in helping to break down the miserable east-west divide that has blighted the borough for so long.

 

Instead, Haringey are quietly losing control of the disposal and future of a much loved building that could have delivered so much.

 

Hornsey Town Hall and all of us deserve better than this.

 

 

October 2017

Many thanks Dave, for this clear detailed description of how Haringey got into the latest Hornsey Town Hall (HTH) mess. I'd guess that with the high rate of churn in Haringey, many people may not know the background.

Understanding this can help all of us to appreciate the lamentably poor judgement of those politicians responsible. And perhaps to guide both those selecting candidates and all of us considering how to vote on 3 May 2017.

What else can we learn from the Hornsey Town Hall deal?  I strongly suggest people take it as a grave warning about the Claire Kober/ Alan Strickland HDV plans, and why they  need defeating. The levers of power should be out of reach of either plan's supporters.

Clearing up the mess which Kober & Co leave behind will be a major problem for the new council elected next May. Four more years of similar appalling mistakes and lack of democracy is a dreadful prospect. All of us deserve better.

I've just looked again at the GVA report from November 2014. From the paragraph below (section 4.123 of the report) GVA show remarkable prescience, almost as though they knew all along who would submit the winning bid.

Hotel

There is no obvious demand for a hotel in this location. The absence of major rail infrastructure, any large employment hubs or institutional basis to support hotel use result in low market demand in this location.

The Soft Market testing process did provide one response from a consulted party for the potential in examining the potential for a hotel at this location, however, there was no detailed analysis behind this suggestion. This potential use should be examined by the Council going forward.

The report also contains a comment on office space. One might ask 'What's Hornsey got to do with it?' and 'Where are these other offices?'

Office

Hornsey has not been defined as an office location by the Authority. There are significant small spaces for office usage in the locality such as above retail units and in smaller purpose built historic office spaces.

Most of this stuff still appears to be filtered through the PR requirements of the local Labour Party. Which isn't helpful. What they need to say is "we sold the place already", which would allow them to move on - and perhaps allow the rest of us to move on too. At this point we need to separate (all of us) the shortcomings of the process from the outcome.

The problems faced by the councillors stem from Haringey's decision to flog the TH off, lock, stock and barrel to the private sector. A decision made without any consultation with the local community whatsoever, indeed any querying of the decision was given pretty short shrift - which left many of us with the distinct impression that the local community are considered as the enemy by the Council (yes, I know, plus ca change, etc.).

However, the decision to sell was made over two years ago. The Development Agreement between the Council and FEC, which effectively sold the place off, was signed in February 2017 - nearly nine months ago. So, the actions carried out by Haringey may not command widespread support, people may be disappointed - maybe the ballot box will be affected next year - but the deal is done.

In the meantime the FEC proposals are now clearer, and will be delivered, whether we like them or not. But are they as bad as all that?

A very expensive looking restoration is planned, and while the numbers are a bit uncertain, it will at least happen (which is what the Creative Trust keep banging on about). The TH will feature a hotel, and a hotel may be risky, but let's hope it succeeds. It'll be full of restaurants and bars too, which also carry risk if they get the operators wrong, but will likely be popular with a lot of Crouch Enders.

The argument over affordable is fake. There were never going to be many in this scheme, they have a TH to restore. Which is why Haringey are now playing politics with the issue with public money.

Piers Read's appointment as arts operator is out of left field, and he's presumably got a lot of work to do - but while it's not convincing yet, one assumes other potential operators and operations would be in the same boat at this stage. Plans need to be made. ANA are a private company too. What's the difference?

And the whole thing is much, much better than the Mountview project. Mountview would have caused far greater harm to the listed building, with whole sections knocked through for new studios, the community usage would've been far less than what's on offer now (reduced to occasional concerts and open days), no restaurants or bars would've figured (one student caff) - and Mountview are a private company just the same, so community ownership would have been lost anyway. Most importantly the doors would've been locked to the public - in the current scheme the public gets to use the cafes, bars and restaurants, and has access to the lobbies all day every day. It becomes part of Crouch End. As I say, better, much better. I guess we would have had a few students about, but very few - places like Middlesex and London Met have 20,000 students, Mountview has 400 - I admire Mountview as much as anyone else, but it's just a small private college which would have made no traceable difference to Crouch End and we'd have lost the TH for good.

So, you know, maybe the initial decision was wrong, maybe the process flawed, but the outcome may not be all bad. You don't have to be a cheerleader for FEC, it isn't necessary to play politics with the councillors, nor fall back on desperate optimism...  just a realistic appraisal and constructive criticism would do.

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