Good News

Good news is rare, so Just Space has been happy about two victories over the summer. Seven Sisters Indoor Market (also known as the Latin Village or Pueblito Paisa) at Wards Corner, Seven Sisters, has a breakthrough after one of the longest-running campaigns in the Just Space network. The other, at Mortlake, was a victory at a Mayor of London Hearing at which Just Space was able to lend support to the local community organisations. There is also encouraging news below from engagement with the London Assembly.

This is an update with links, especially for those who missed these news items at the time.

Wards Corner

Wards Corner in South Tottenham has for many years been a trading and community centre for Latin American communities in London, as well as other local migrant communities. Seven Sisters Indoor Market occupies ground floor space in the former Wards department store above Seven Sisters station, a historic building neglected by its owners, Transport for London (TfL), for nearly 50 years. The traders together with local residents, businesses and customers have long campaigned for the Wards building to be repaired, restored and brought back into full use, delivering a new market alongside new low-cost retail, office and community spaces.  But they have been up against a local authority, Haringey, which was actively pro-developers and supported (and gave permission for) a comprehensive demolition and re-build of a much larger site including the Wards building to provide corporate retailing and housing (including NO social or ‘affordable’ homes at all). The developer, Grainger, had been pressed into making provision for the reinstatement of the market in part of the new scheme and for housing the traders across the road during the development. But the traders and wider community organisations remained determined to implement an alternative scheme for their own building and over which they would have control. 

After many years of inquiries, hearings and power shifts within the Haringey Labour Party, this year’s news is that Grainger have pulled out of their scheme. This is the event which has prompted the current jubilation and strenuous moves to constitute a Community Benefit Society to deliver the alternative community scheme. The latest set of Haringey Council leaders are backing the alternative. 

There is far to go, of course, in setting up a community development machinery, securing a long-term lease from TfL and addressing some of the legacies from the Grainger years, including some tensions amongst some traders. But this is good news for a campaign which has been part of Just Space since our foundation 15 years ago.

It’s a project which embodies so much of the spirit of the community-led challenge in London’s development: the pursuit of social and cultural values, not just financial value; support for the hidden but real economy where people meet each other’s needs, not just business greed, and where community itself becomes an agent for change. In the world of Covid-19 all this becomes even more important. Congratulations to Haringey for supporting it.

Mortlake Brewery

The disused Stag Brewery site was the subject of a major housing and mixed use redevelopment proposal on the bank of the Thames in the Borough of Richmond with a school adjoining it. There was a long history of the Council preparing a brief for the site and numerous local community groups making submissions on a very wide range of issues. In the end Richmond Council gave permission for a scheme which the local groups regarded as far too dense for various reasons —amenity, effects on the ‘sylvan’ riverside, traffic generation in an area of very poor accessibility, overloading of social infrastructure (with a 90% increase in neighbourhood population)— and flood risks. The primary school which residents and the Council had wanted was replaced in the plan by a proposed secondary Academy, forced on the council by the DfE against all evidence of need.

The scheme as approved by the Council in 2019 had offered 17% of ‘affordable’ housing out of 813 homes and it was called in for the Mayor’s decision by the Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe on the grounds that this proportion was inadequate. The exact grounds were “…including the delivery of housing and affordable housing as well as highways impacts and potential mitigation.”

In negotiations at City Hall the scheme was modified in July 2020 and again in September to offer 30% affordable housing (by habitable rooms), split 41% London Affordable Rent (LAR), 59% intermediate (Shared Ownership and London Living Rent). No social rent homes were proposed. To achieve even this level of ‘affordable’ housing the density of the development had been increased to 1250 homes and we understand that the GLA officers involved had been content with that. The report prepared by the GLA officer (Case Officer Ashley Russell) before the hearing recommended acceptance.

In the event, after hearing community objections (including support from Just Space on the grounds that the credibility of London Plan policies on affordability, density and building height would be threatened by a consent) the Mayor reflected and then said that he was refusing the scheme. This was a great victory. 

There are, however, two puzzling features of this case.

The Mayor’s oral decision emphasised the affordability of housing in the scheme, stressing that 30% fell short of his expectations and the requirements of the London Plan. He went on to say that the damage to the amenity caused by the additional building heights was not justified by the gain in affordable housing. However his written statement of refusal, issued a week or so after the hearing, does not discuss the affordability issues at all, focusing entirely on the bulk, massing and heritage impacts as grounds for refusal. This seems curious.

A second puzzle is how the Mayor’s viability experts came to agree to use a much higher ‘Baseline Land Value’ (BLV) for this ex-industrial site than they would have used if they were valuing it as industrial land. This higher value will have reduced the amount of ‘affordable’ housing that could ‘viably’ have been secured. But the whole point of the London Plan requirement that 50% of housing on ex-industrial land must be ‘affordable’ is that industrial land is much cheaper than residential land so developers can afford more. In their report the GLA valuers say §7.2 “Assessment of BLV … should normally be based on an assessment of the existing use value. However, given the limited demand for a brewery operation on this site, any value assessed on this basis would be negligible, and a landowner would be unlikely to dispose of the site on this basis. It is therefore appropriate to consider alternative approaches to assessing a minimum return at which a reasonable landowner would release the site.” Isn’t this giving away precisely the advantage which the former industrial use should have offered?  

Perhaps if, and when, a new scheme is developed for this very fine site, the GLA will take an even tougher line on affordability. But for the moment it is a good sign that the Mayor is prepared to stand up for affordable housing to this degree.

The future of Mayoral call-ins

The Planning and Regeneration committee of the London Assembly held an entire meeting on 9 November 2021 about citizen participation in these called-in cases. Just Space had taken an active part in the formulation of the meeting and recommended the format where multiple voices would express grassroots and other community views. Just Space and many of its member groups were present and able to contribute a strong community perspective to an excellent event. It is available to watch on YouTube (though not at the normal location on the GLA web site because of some technical breakdown). You need to scroll along to about 10 minutes to catch the start.  

More news to follow about this (next post) and future work with the Assembly on Opportunity Areas.

Participants on 9 November were
Hiba Ahmad, Save Nour, Brixton
Michael Bach, London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies.
Mark Brearley, Vital OKR, Old Kent Road, Southwark
Tim Catchpole, Mortlake Brewery Community Group;
Clare Delmar, Listen to Locals;
Jerry Flynn, 35% Campaign, Elephant Amenity Network;
Yacob Ghebrekristos, Estate Watch
Richard Lee, Just Space;
Jonathan Moberly, East End Preservation Society;
Connor McNeil, Victorian Society;
Heloise Palin, Administrator, Spitalfields Trust;
Saif Osmani, Truman Brewery Campaigner;
Angus Robertson, Alton Action, Roehampton; 
Natalia Perez, Programme Co-Director, Latin Elephant;
Patria Roman-Velazquez, Chair of Trustees, Latin Elephant

Mayor to abolish Housing Panel amid protests

London Housing Panel

On the day when we are all remembering the Grenfell disaster, we are shocked to hear that the Mayor of London is to abolish the London Housing Panel —the one instrument we have to ensure that tenants and residents have a direct input to policy making. 

The London Housing Panel had its first meeting in June 2019.  Now the Greater London Authority says its work will only be funded up to March 2022 —less than three years from its launch.  We are asking the Mayor to think again and asking the other recipients of this letter to do your utmost to convince the GLA to continue co-funding the work of this unique and essential panel.

The Panel was established to provide voluntary and community groups with a structured way of engaging with the GLA in relation to housing policy and vice versa.  We are assured that the Mayor wants to make sure his housing policies are developed with the involvement of London’s diverse communities. 

In April 2020 the Panel called for commitment from the Mayor on these priorities:
1. Massively increase social housing supply
2. Support all Londoners to be heard and thrive
3. Take action on temporary accommodation 

At this time of greater housing insecurity for so many Londoners, we think the work of the Panel is needed more than ever.  Given the central importance of housing and of retrofit as London battles the climate emergency and the post-Covid recovery, it cannot be wise or politically sensible to scrap such a crucial institution.

The GLA needs to think again about this proposal.

Download full text of Just Space letter to the GLA:

Just Space activity June 2021

January – May 2021, posted 10 June

(This updates previous reports on 19th June 2020 and 18th January 2021)

Estate Watch

Tenants and residents from social housing estates under threat of demolition have attended meetings (by zoom) every 2 months.  Topics discussed have included: the role of independent tenant and leaseholder advisors, how do we win estate ballots, telling the stories of estates through videos and podcasts.

Thanks to LTF and Pablo Sendra’s Alton Estate project, a further 6 months funding has been obtained for estate watch, extending the project to the end 2021.

On 2nd June 2021, the Mayor of London declared a “retrofit revolution” with £10 billion to deliver “large scale low carbon upgrades to the capital’s social housing, whilst supporting the creation of green jobs.”  London will lead a new £3.5 million national centre of excellence to “help social housing providers access funding to make their homes fit for the future and protect the most vulnerable from cold, damp homes.”

Potential action: Could Just Space undertake campaign work directed at the Mayor of London/ London Assembly in support of the demands coming from Estates Watch meetings?  Can we propose a mechanism (e.g. community expert panel or London Assembly sub-group) to enable community groups to be involved in the retrofit initiatives at a strategic level.

Just Collaborate

Just Collaborate seeks greater levels of support from Universities for grassroots community groups. Registration as a limited company was achieved in April 2021, with Just Collaborate chosen as the name, since Collaborate had already been used.  The Directors are:  Mama D, Toby Laurent Belson, Shirley Hanazawa, Saif Osmani and Wilfried Rimensberger.

Just Collaborate is now setting up a bank account and various protocols.  Its first funded project is with Brunel University, to organise Action Learning Sets on decolonisation and power.  

Potential action: Is there interest by Just Space members in an Action Learning Set that looks at the experience of how power manifests itself within and between community organisations and Universities?

People’s Land Policy

A series of 4 seminars on “Land and Food” took place in February and March 2021.  The topics were: Post Brexit Agriculture, the UK food and agricultural system, urban food growing, the Global Food Justice Movement.  Just Space policy positions on food re – the 2019 London Plan EiP and the London Food Strategy were shared.  The outcome is a new chapter of the pamphlet Working Towards a People’s Land Policy (the chapter is currently in draft form).

Potential action: Policy ideas on Land and Food could be included in the Community Led Recovery Plan.  

New Lucas Plan / Climate Change Strategy

The New Lucas Plan group ran a session at the COP26 preparatory event in April, called From the Ground Up II.  Under the umbrella of New Lucas Plan, Just Space was invited to speak about the production of Community Led Plans.  

Potential action: Just Space and/or member groups might wish to formally register with the COP26 mobilisation From the Ground Up.  

Planning Aid for London

This organisation had been listed as a supporter of Just Space in our early days but became, in effect, dormant. A year ago it was re-floated, hosted by the Town and Country Planning Association TCPA and funded for the next few years at least by the Trust for London. It offers online and real life advice to individuals and groups dealing with the planning system, with a particular emphasis on building up long-term relationships with significant community organisations. At the moment these include Southwark Planning Network and Barking Reach (TWCP, where Just Space is also active).  There is a steering group with the following membership and a new web site at https://planningaidforlondon.org.uk

The steering group does seem to be listened to and is useful.  We can all help by suggesting documents and links to be added to their web site listing of resources – which is a London-specific pool of information. If you have generated useful material or come across it, please let PAL know (via their web site or via Michael Edwards)

Collective Community Action (CCA)

Launched in January 2021, this is a group of active citizens, built environment professionals, community engagement specialists, educators, consultants and social entrepreneurs coming together to discuss, communicate, provoke and propose the changes needed to ensure communities are at the heart of urban change for the better. Members include Soundings, Grosvenor, Ft’work architects, Manor House Development Trust, Creative Wick and Just Space members Hayes Community Forum and Peckham Vision. 

Much effort has been put into the glossy booklet advocating a Mayoral Statement of Community Involvement (MSCI) and Collaborative Community Training for those involved in educational, professional and public life on planning and engagement, together with good practice examples. Members then approached their known contacts within relevant ‘corridors of power’ particularly to have Mayoral candidates sign up to the MSCI.

Alongside this, Ft’work Trust funded work with Centre for London to develop and launch a ‘manifesto’ said to champion community involvement in the way London is built and managed.

CCA members tried to influence the content and Peckham Vision successfully had inserted ‘ongoing place-based audits’. This ‘Need for Change’ document was launched on 2 March as part of the policy ideas Mayoral candidates had approached the Centre for London for. An article subsequently appeared in the RTPI’s professional periodical (‘The Planner’ May 2021) featuring Eileen Conn on why ‘London needs a MSCI’.

Coincidentally, one of the ten planning-related promises in Sadiq Khan’s mayoral election manifesto was the ‘review how to further involve local communities in the planning decisions that affect them’.  London Assembly member Andrew Boff questioned the Mayor about this (Q-time 27 May) who replied that officers will be undertaking a full review of engagement processes ‘to give full effect to Policy (sic) GG1’, together with digital engagement, stakeholder mapping and learning from best practice.

Potential action: The MSCI is a long-standing ask of Just Space whose scope and content – as published in ‘Towards a Community-led Plan for London’ (PDF) and 2019 EiP – needs updating (e.g. to address digitisation) and re-proposed to the Mayor.

Grand Union Alliance (GUA)

Just Space was commissioned back in Spring 2016 by the London Tenants Federation (LTF) to help LTF deliver UCL Geography community-based research supporting the community network GUA in Old Oak Park Royal area (Mayoral Development Corporation OPDC). Since July 2019 onwards, JS inputs have continued voluntarily on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis whilst the OPDC prepared Modifications to its draft Local Plan as an attempt to satisfy the Planning Inspector’s Interim Findings in September 2019.

These Modifications are currently subject to public consultation and are being actively followed by GUA participants with a view to making representations by 7th July. Regular monthly public meetings are continuing in partnership with the Old Oak Neighbourhood Forum, whose reports can be seen at its website. Co-operation has extended to corresponding with the OPDC, HS2 and various planning applications.

Potential action: Prospects of an OPDC funded community support worker have now refocused on HS2 and other construction impacts rather than planning itself. For the foreseeable future, an un-resourced GUA, in order to continue, will need voluntary support from JS. The GUA is not in a position to become appropriately constituted to find funding.

A Just Space commitment to preparing a Community Handbook on influencing large scale planning as informed by GUA experiences could form part of the MSCI review (see CCA potential action above).

Listen to Locals
This group originates from a 15 year old campaign in Mortlake and is hoping to bring together people London-wide who are affected by planning policy and large developments. The aim was to have a Hustings on planning for the Mayoral election, which happened. Just Space co-hosted. Lucy Rogers represented Just Space in the preparations. See the Hustings video edit here https://www.listentolocals.co.uk/post/local-community-hustings-video-edit-by-just-space 

Following the Hustings, which was felt to be a success, Just Space (Lucy, Eileen, Michael) met with Listen to Locals (Clare Delmar) and Collective Community Action (Clare Richards) to discuss the scope for grassroots collaboration London-wide

Discussion point: To consider the benefits of this collaboration (e.g. communications to mobilise the public to challenge City Hall, campaign against new planning laws) and whether it provides an opportunity to reconfigure Just Space network meetings.

London Plan finally out

2 March 2021 The London Plan has finally been adopted and published. This page on the GLA site has free downloads of the Plan and various linked documents including a summary presentation. Paper copies will be available for £50 and may be pre-ordered now.

Our view is that the draft plan issued in 2017 was a great disappointment; subsequent changes have included some small improvements but have also made it worse. Our latest view is here and you can trace back to our earlier statements and those of the community groups which make up Just Space.

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Housing Associations: getting the best from them

Maximising really affordable housing in London 2021-2025 What could the Assembly & the Mayor of London do?

Letter from Just Space to Mayor and Assembly Members 3 February 2021 [This follows a letter sent a few days ago calling on the GLA to discuss ways of minimising the ill effects of the New London Plan. See previous post here.]

The new London Plan is now finalised and there is wide agreement —including by the Mayor— that it will not secure as much low-rent social housing as London needs. Totally inadequate investment in social rent housing will continue from 2021 to 2025, and grant funding from MHLG via the GLA is likely to remain biased towards intermediate tenures. But despite this, boroughs and the Mayor of London could still deliver much more, by positively influencing housing associations and adopting better planning policies and development management practices. Londoners’ experience during Covid adds urgency to the need for low-rent homes.

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London Plan: damage limitation

On 1 February Just Space wrote to the GLA calling for urgent steps to reduce the negative impacts of the latest changes to the Plan.

From Just Space to Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor (planning)

Cc to Tom Copley, Deputy Mayor (housing), Members of the London Assembly, London Plan Team, London Councils

Dear Mr Pipe and colleagues

New London Plan: mitigation of adverse impacts

Now that the new London Plan is cleared for printing and London is, in effect, stuck with it for a few years, we are writing to urge you to launch an urgent study of how the negative impacts of the Plan can be mitigated through any of the GLA’s powers or the powers of boroughs or other bodies and to collaborate with community groups in doing so.

Many community and grassroots organisations, and others, struggled long and hard through the last five years of consultation & planning to make the London Plan a more equitable and powerful instrument to achieve the inspiring egalitarian ambitions held by the Mayor and captured in his City for All Londoners, in his preface to the London Plan and in the Good Growth Policies. Both the process and the outcome have been a tremendous disappointment at successive stages. The interventions from the SoS have made matters worse.

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London Plan going to the printer

News 29 January 2021: Secretary of State (Mr Jenrick) has agreed to the Mayor’s latest set of revisions so now the Publication London Plan is being sent to the printers. It was a developer’s dream from the outset & is now even worse, especially for low- and moderate-income Londoners, for most ethnic minorities and for productive enterprises. Scroll down to the end of this post for our assessment.

15 January 2021: Deadlock was reached between the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the Secretary of State (SoS) Robert Jenrick but the SoS has pulled rank and dictated changes to the Plan which are now embodied in a new version from the Mayor.  This seems bound to give us an even worse London Plan than we were expecting a year ago and reads like something from a past era. What happened? A summary…

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Wrong reforms proposed for planning

1 Nov 2020: Democracy down; developer profits up; free gift of rights to landowners; few silver linings. Consultations have closed on the government’s proposals for changes to the planning system in England with very strong criticisms being made by community groups and others. Just Space groups have declined to answer the government’s leading questions and instead present refreshing insights on what’s wrong and what’s needed:

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New Planning System?

August 10 + later updates through October 2020: The UK government is preparing a number of major changes to the Town and Country Planning System in England (not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland where devolved bodies make these decisions). We shall add material to this page in the coming weeks to help member groups in London to prepare responses, so this is a good post to bookmark: click on the heading above first. Please do contribute.
A number of consultations are finished and have been moved to the bottom of the page. This is the big one remaining:

Planning for the Future: white paper Consultation ends 29 October 2020 2345h.

This is the Just Space response to the consultation, submitted on 28th October.

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