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