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House of Commons Hansard
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Wards Corner Redevelopment
29 January 2020
Volume 670

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Morris.)

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I am very grateful to have the opportunity to have the Adjournment debate this evening.

Mr Speaker, you may not know that Seven Sisters tube station in my constituency has about 3 million people visitors every year. Mr Speaker, I can tell that you are aghast. That is because it is the home of Tottenham Hotspur and people arriving to see them often come through the station. It is very much the gateway to my constituency.

Wards Corner is part of that gateway. It is the first building that people see on exiting Seven Sisters tube station. In the year of my birth, 1972, the former Edwardian department store was left abandoned. Soon it fell into a state of disrepair and throughout my childhood and teenage years, the space remained unused. It was not until the early 2000s, when new arrivals came to Tottenham—from Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil and other countries across South America—that it became lively again. Many had fled chaos and upheaval at home, but in Wards Corner, they spotted an opportunity to build a new home out of the disused space.

Stepping inside the Latin Village that they created is like entering a whole different world. Inside is a magical maze of shops, food stalls, barbershops and nail bars. Salsa and Spanish music vibrate the shelves of groceries. Kids run excitedly though the aisles. Men and women sit and chat, sipping strong Colombian coffee. The smell of Argentinian meat, freshly made empanadas and tamales is impossible to resist.

As day becomes night, the aisles fill up with young couples, groups of friends and families sitting down at tables to eat. The volume of the sound system is turned up. Beers imported from South America are passed round. People chat, their faces illuminated by fairy lights and the hues of shop fronts. Couples dance. Out of the rubble, Tottenham’s South American community has created a treasure trove of culture, community, love and life. London is often hailed as a centre of openness, diversity and multiculturalism; this is a corner of the capital that lives up to the hype.

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rose—

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I am not sure that the debate will roam as far as Northern Ireland, but I am sure that there will be a reason—perhaps the hon. Gentleman is a visitor to the precinct.

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I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. What he has been describing sounds almost idyllic. Does he not agree that any development strategy—I think he will come to this—must be robust and ensure that those who are from different communities, which he mentioned, within the overall community feel important and that they are heard and understood? Further, does he believe that we must be at pains to ensure that plans never, ever exclude people from their businesses and marketplaces and that we should understand their effect on people’s ordinary lives?

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I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point in the way he did. He knows something about what it means to be excluded and excluded communities, and he is right that I will come to that. I know that those listening to the debate will be very grateful that he and others have taken interest.

Today, the Latin Village hosts the United Kingdom’s second largest concentration of Latin American businesses. Around 60—mostly female—traders run businesses in the Latin Village, providing a living for some 80 families, but for those who work and shop and have even grown up in the plywood jungle, the market represents so much more than a pay cheque.

Tottenham has witnessed two riots in my lifetime: in 1985 and 2011. Its current challenges, including London’s knife and gang-crime epidemic, are well known. In that context, the Latin market is a vital space, where social belonging is promoted and a sense of collective identity is built. Across families and generations, residents rely on the village as a safe and inclusive space for socialising and raising their families. It is a thriving model of community wealth creation, of affordable and effective childcare, and of inter-generational bonding. The demolition of Wards Corner represents a very real threat to that social cohesion. For many, it could mean the end of their way of life.

Almost everyone accepts that Wards Corner would benefit from investment, but at present, there are two competing visions of its future. The first redevelopment plan is that of Grainger plc, which was selected as a development partner by Haringey Council in 2004. In 2012, the council granted Grainger plc planning and conservation area consent for the redevelopment of the Wards Corner site. It sets out a blueprint to build 196 new luxury flats—with no allocation for social or affordable units—and a new retail and leisure space. Just six commercial units will be allocated to independent stores. The rest will be filled with generic coffee shops and chain restaurants—a world away from the vibrant and unique stalls inside the market. In addition, it was agreed that the Seven Sisters market, including Latin Village, would be temporarily relocated, before getting a new site on the other side of the road.

However, planning documents show that the new market will come with a dramatic increase of rent—effectively locking out the traders and family businesses that make up Latin Village. For the first five years there will be a 2% cap on rent increases, but after that, rents will be subject to the market. Traders have estimated that that could mean a rent increase of up to 300%.

UN human rights experts have already condemned the scheme, calling it

“a gentrification project”

that

“represents a threat to cultural life”.

Traders could be forced to shut up shop, families may have to look for new incomes and the jewel of Latin Village could shatter and ultimately be swept away.

The second vision for the future of Wards Corner is the “community plan”, proposed in a planning application to the council by the West Green Road and Seven Sisters Development Trust. Earlier versions of the community plan have had planning permission, but you would not know that from the public statements of Haringey Council, Transport for London or the developer. The community plan outlines a vision for a high-quality, tasteful restoration of the Wards Corner building to its former glory and its use as a community asset and space, rather than demolition of the Wards Corner department store building. The plan says:

“We believe that it is not necessary to demolish existing historic assets or to dislocate an entire community that has lived and worked on the site for a generation and more. We regard restoration as a more sustainable form of regeneration, building as it does on already existing community assets. Top-down, developer-led regeneration is not the only way.”

The redevelopment of Wards Corner is a local issue in Tottenham, but it is part of a national, and even global, story. We have heard it so many times, in so many different places. Migrants turn a run-down space into a cultural and business centre, but then a corporate entity threatens to take it away. The questions it raises are the same in Tottenham as they are in Glasgow, just as they are the same in the Bronx. When a deprived area is “redeveloped”, are we not meant to improve the lives of deprived people who already live there? Why does it take an influx of wealthy new people to an area before anyone bothers to invest in it? Should we not bring the existing communities along with the redevelopment, rather than kick them out? Is the purpose of redevelopment social cohesion or social cleansing?

The traders who depend on Latin Village have been treated with gross disrespect and a lack of compassion throughout this process. The firm Quarterbridge was appointed the “market facilitator”—a supposedly independent body responsible for looking after traders’ interests during the redevelopment. However, the director of Quarterbridge, Jonathan Owen, is also the director of Market Asset Management. How can the market manager be the same man as the market facilitator? The very person who is supposed to stand up for the Latin Village’s market traders has an interest in the new development’s going ahead. Jonathan Owen has made his conflict of interest very clear, by adding insult to injury of those he is supposed to protect. Owen has used phrases such as “bloody illegal immigrants” and declared that, “If I wanted to I could get rid of 90% of the traders here”. When traders asked whether drains could be cleared, he replied, “When was the last time you cleared the drains in your house?”

Jonathan Owen and Quarterbridge were chosen and paid for by Transport for London. They were supposed to look out for the traders. Transport for London should have done proper due diligence when awarding the lease. If traders had experienced even a fraction of the racism and bullying that they have had to endure while on the platform of Seven Sisters station, Transport for London would have acted. However, moments away in the market, on land owned by Transport for London, there has been deflection and inaction when blatant acts of discrimination have taken place. This is not acceptable. Jonathan Owen, Quarterbridge and Market Asset Management must now be fired and sent packing from the market. There needs to be a thorough review into why this level of unacceptable conduct has been allowed to carry on over such a long and sustained period on public land without Transport for London having done anything meaningful to stop it. There also needs to be an investigation into the very serious allegations of overcharging of traders for electricity and other utilities by the market operator—allegations that might amount to fraud and which ought to require police involvement.

Haringey Council has technically given the community plan permission to go ahead, but at the same time it says there is no way for the Grainger plc plan to be stopped. The council’s housing and regeneration scrutiny panel undertook a thorough review, which lasted several months and heard evidence from traders, council officers, Transport for London, Grainger, Quarterbridge, architects, experts and academics. For the first time in years, traders at the market felt listened to. It was a model of good overview and scrutiny work.

Last week, however, the cabinet of Haringey Council rejected eight, partially agreed with three and fully agreed with just three of the 14 recommendations made by its own scrutiny panel on the redevelopment. The council maintains that some of the recommendations were simply not within its remit. I spoke to the council about this just this week. The recommendations it rejected, however, included recommendation 5, which calls for a review of how all section 106 conditions are monitored and enforced in order to make sure that people with protected characteristics are protected under equalities legislation.

An investigation undertaken by Haringey Council’s own planning department into section 106 concluded that it indeed was breached and that the council should have known and should have acted earlier. In addition, when the compulsory purchase order was granted by the department, the planning inspector, John Felgate, gave an “erroneous interpretation” of Grainger’s commitment to guarantee the traders’ rent. The report suggested that traders’ rents should be guaranteed to rise by no more than 2% per year indefinitely. In reality, this guarantee only holds for five years. Given these issues, does the Minister maintain that the CPO is still valid?

Other recommendations rejected by the Haringey Council cabinet include the recommendation to

“explore the feasibility and cost benefits of all approaches for a full or partial buy-out”.

This means not giving the community plan a chance. Worse still, the council even rejected the recommendation to work with Grainger plc and relevant community groups to co-ordinate a combined solution. Surely that is wrong. How can we bring partners together, how can people sit down with traders, with the council, with Grainger, to broker a solution that all of us can get behind?

We say we are on the side of the many, not the few. We should not be sending enforcement officers to hassle family traders. When a Labour council rightly talks about putting people before profit, that means being led by the voices of the communities, not developers. Some of the evictions we have seen just this week are a scandal and have caused real concern in the constituency. That is how people in my constituency have been treated by what has been called the first “Corbyn council”. We cannot claim to do housing differently and then simply do it in the same way. Due process matters. Proper scrutiny and accountability matter. Standing up to racism, bullying and victimisation in all their ugly forms matters.

The good thing for Haringey Council, TFL and this Government is that it is not too late. There is still time to do the right thing. All it will take is swallowing some pride and applying simple principles that should have been followed from the start. It means recognising the huge cultural and social value of the Latin Village, investing in the traders who created it and taking their plans for its redevelopment seriously. I want to see the market operator got rid of, properly investigated and, if applicable, met with the full force of the law. I want to see the community plan for the market given proper and active consideration as a viable part of a new vision for Wards Corner. I want the Minister’s help to facilitate as a matter of urgency independently chaired roundtable discussions at which the market traders are treated as equals and genuinely listened to, so that a better future can be shaped for the site, with them at the heart of decisions on what happens next.

If Grainger’s development is what goes ahead, at the very least it needs to make some serious compromises. First, given the housing crisis, it is outrageous that there is no provision for social housing. A new minimum quota of 10% should be introduced. Secondly, there must be a large increase in the number of spaces for independent traders. We cannot allow Wards Corner to become another clone high street. Thirdly, the five-year rent increase cap is not good enough. There is no point in preserving Latin Village for half a decade only to let it collapse later. Let us introduce a review at the end of that period to decide whether to extend or change the cap.

It would be a great failure if Tottenham were to become just another story of gentrification, with locals pushed out as wealthy investors come in, and culture bulldozed and replaced by clone high streets—if it were to become another deprived community that is not invested in, but pushed further away. Let Wards Corner instead become an example of how we can do regeneration better: bottom-up, not top-down, and with investment for the community that is based there, not in spite of it. Let us have a new future for Tottenham that does not demolish the past.

The Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), would have liked to be here this evening. He has met people in the Latin Village, and he too says that he stands with the Latin Village community to protect the market. It is a place of community identity that gives more than 60 independent traders a livelihood. Their struggle, he says, is his struggle, and I associate myself with his remarks. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

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I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing the debate. I know that this matter is of great importance to him and to those associated with Seven Sisters market.

Given the time limit, I may not be able to address every issue that has been raised. I should also make it clear that, for reasons that I will explain in more detail, I cannot comment freely on the regeneration of Wards Corner, and in particular the Secretary of State’s decision to confirm the Wards Corner compulsory purchase order. I know that the right hon. Gentleman, as an experienced Member of the House, will understand that, as there is an application to the Court of Appeal in respect of the High Court ruling upholding the Secretary of State’s decision to confirm the CPO, it is simply not possible for me to discuss the details and the application, as to do so might prejudice those judicial review proceedings. The matter was lodged with the Court of Appeal just before Christmas, and it may be a number of months before it is known whether permission will be given for it to be subject to those further proceedings. I therefore presume that the right hon. Gentleman considered it more important to put his concerns on the record than to hear anything that I might be able to say, and in that context I commend him for making those points. Let me emphasise, however, that the Government take the issue of regeneration and the role of planning extremely seriously. With that in mind, I will explain the background to and the Government’s involvement in the Wards Comer CPO, leading up to the application to the Court of Appeal. I will then place that in the context of the Government’s view on the use of CPO powers.

In September 2016, the London Borough of Haringey made the Wards Corner CPO to enable it to acquire 9 hectares compulsorily to facilitate the comprehensive regeneration of the land known as Wards Corner, for which it had previously granted planning permission for a mixed-use development. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the council made a robust case to the inquiry that the scheme would act as a catalyst for the local community by bringing an injection of new investment, higher order retail activity, an improved Seven Sisters market, and more and higher quality jobs. The overall investment in terms of construction cost alone was estimated at about £60 million. It is forecast that during the construction phase the development will provide 190 full-time equivalent direct jobs, and that once it has been completed a further 95 direct jobs will deliver £4.8 million per year in gross value added. The scheme will also support further spin-off jobs indirectly.

The CPO was submitted to the Secretary of State for confirmation. Following the receipt of public objections to it, a public local inquiry was arranged in July 2017. The community and the market traders themselves played a full and active part in the CPO process and in the public inquiry. An independent inquiry inspector heard oral submissions on behalf of the market traders’ group and other interested parties. The public inquiry inspector returned his findings and recommendation to the Secretary of State in January 2018, and just over a year ago the Secretary of State issued his decision to confirm the CPO.

That would normally end the Secretary of State’s formal involvement, but as I am pretty sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the Secretary of State’s decision was then challenged in the courts. The case was heard by the High Court in October 2019, and judgment was handed down in two days. The claim was dismissed and the judge refused leave to appeal the decision. I cannot interpret on the judgment, but I should say that, overall, the judge was not persuaded that a genuine doubt existed as to the approach adopted by the inspector and therefore the Secretary of State in his decision, on the issues of affordability and the public sector equality duty of concern to the claimants.

That was not the end of the matter, and litigation has continued. Following the High Court judgment, the claimant lodged an application to the Court of Appeal. As yet, there has been no word on whether the application has been accepted and it might be several months before it is known whether the fresh appeal will get permission to be heard at that next tier of the judicial system. Therefore, while the Government welcomed the judgment made in the High Court, the council must again wait to see whether it can take forward the order that will enable the proposals on much-needed regeneration for the area to proceed.

I would now like to set out the wider purpose of the CPO process and its role in enabling and supporting the regeneration of communities such as those in Tottenham. Successive Governments have supported compulsory purchase as an important tool to assemble land into a single ownership to enable the delivery of a wide range of development projects. Used properly, compulsory purchase can enable the development of new communities, essential social infrastructure and commercial facilities, all of which can support economic growth, regeneration and improvements in quality of life. It enables the acquisition of land and property in the public interest without the agreement of the owner, subject to the payment of fair compensation. While land can be acquired by agreement between the parties concerned, such voluntary approaches are unlikely to be suitable for assembling all the land needed for major projects because some owners might not agree to sell their land, or might ask an unreasonably high price. Local authorities and others are empowered to use compulsory purchase powers to deliver a wide range of projects, from large-scale town centre regeneration schemes to the refurbishment of individual empty homes.

To use compulsory purchase powers, an acquiring authority must first make a CPO and submit it to the relevant Minister to decide whether to confirm it. The acquiring authority must notify all qualifying persons, including the relevant owners and occupiers. The CPO is advertised through newspapers and site notices to notify the general public. Remaining objectors to the CPO have the right to object and be heard at a public local inquiry. An inspector’s task is to inquire into the CPO and to elicit all the information needed to enable the Minister to decide whether to confirm the CPO. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the CPO process provides ample opportunity for all interested parties to be fully, properly and fairly involved in the process.

The inspector will then prepare and submit their report to the Minister, including their recommendation on whether the CPO should be confirmed. The Minister will then carefully consider the inspector’s report and decide whether to confirm, modify or not confirm the CPO. In deciding whether to confirm the CPO, the Minister is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. In exercising this function, it is incumbent upon the Minister to act and to been seen to act fairly and even-handedly. A CPO will be confirmed only when the Minister is satisfied that the order contributes to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of an area. The Minister must also be satisfied that there is a compelling case in the public interest to justify interfering with the human rights of those with an interest in the land affected by the CPO. In making the decision, the Minister must also have due regard to the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010.

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The Minister is setting out the rules that govern CPOs and am grateful for that. However, would she be worried if a local authority and others were engaging in evictions while the CPO is still being challenged in the courts to get people out of the building, or using false pretences regarding the state of the building to get the building vacated so that they can proceed as they desire?

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The right hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case, but any person aggrieved who wishes to dispute the validity of a CPO or any of its provisions has the right to legally challenge the confirmation of the CPO. Where a legal challenge is successful, the Court has the discretionary power to quash either the decision to confirm the CPO or the whole or any part of the CPO itself. A decision not to confirm a CPO may be challenged by way of a judicial review application made to the High Court and that was the case with the Wards Corner CPO.

I assure colleagues that the Government remain committed to the regeneration and revitalisation of communities most in need. We fully support Haringey Council in its commitment to regeneration throughout the Tottenham area. Major developments are ongoing at Tottenham Hale and around the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, with others planned. The intention is that the development will provide a catalyst for the regeneration of neighbouring areas such as Seven Sisters, which is the focus of the CPO that we are debating today.

As I said at the start, I must avoid prejudicing the legal process should the application to the Court of Appeal succeed. We must await the outcome from the Court of Appeal. I commend and thank the right hon. Gentleman for securing this debate and speaking so eloquently about the case.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.