On Friday 20 April, we went along to a husting with local councillor candidates from South Tottenham, organised by community led housing scheme StART. Local people from across Tottenham put their questions on housing, health and environment to the panel.
The below summarises the opinions of the candidates and the audience, not necessarily that of Discovering Tottenham.
There were a handful of outbursts from a couple of members of the audience during the two hour discussions and tensions ran high surrounding the treat of gentrification and the uncertainty around Haringey Council’s HDV plans which have been postponed. Locals wanted reassurance that the HDV plans wouldn’t go ahead and it is looking very likely that this will be the case.
Six councillors running for the elections attended, representing five parties along with an independent candidate. The panel was chaired by one of the directors from StART. The candidates on the panel were Andrew Reed (independent), Jarelle Francis (Green), Nick Ovash (TUSC), David Schmitz (Lib Dem), Joseph Ejiofor (Labour), Daniel El Gamry (Conservative).
Things kicked off with a brief pitch from each candidate. We’ve summarised their main statements.
Daniel El Gamry (CON):
- value for money in local government should be put back on the agenda
- councils are filling the cracks central government can’t
- there should be more private sector running of public services
Joseph Ejiofor (LAB):
- labour administration won’t do what the previous admin have done, there will be a change in outlook and the role of local government
- this will be a much more adventurous council
- committed to developing council housing and building on public land
- HDV isn’t the answer
David Schmitz (LD):
- start solving affordable homes issue – how do you keep them affordable?
- current council cant repair the social homes they have
- wants specialist dementia centre in the east of borough
Nick Ovash (TUSC):
- anti cuts
- need someone to represent genuine voice and ideas
- anti austerity
- london living wage by 2022 is not soon enough
- need more council houses – many more than proposed 2000
- believes that the money is there
Jarelle Francis (GRN):
- talked about the four pledges of the green party
- reverse cuts to all youth services – current council went too far
- we need decent social housing and care – keep Osborne Grove (care home in Finsbury Park) open
- transport improvements for local residents – 9000 people die annually from air pollution
- need radical ideas about how we change roads in favour of walking and cycling
- green spaces and parks need protection
Andrew Reid (IND):
- can speak and act freely for the people
- champions local issues and will support any case
- will monitor what’s going on and hold people in power accountable
- local people want sensible parking
- more youth services and after school clubs
- chesnuts community centre – wants to ensure it’s security
- wants to empower and be the voice of the people
As StART organised the husting, they asked whether the candidates supported the idea of StART which aims for 100% affordable housing on the half of the St Ann’s hospital site that the NHS Trust are selling off. The whole panel gave their unanimous support for the project.
A lady from the audience asked what reassurances the councillors would give the long term patients of St Ann’s hospital. She highlighted that many of the patients were from the black and ethnic minority community and felt that there had been a lack of engagement with patients and their families. Her second question was about gun and knife crime and what the council’s plans were to support more young people.
Ovash (TUSC) felt that the council could team up with other councils to provide a stronger service. He pointed out that 12 or 13 youth centres had closed in Haringey since 2011 and felt that the increased death rate is a reflection of the lack of opportunities for young people in the borough.
Francis (GRN) said that the quality of the health service at St Ann’s was not an isolated incident and wants to reverse the cuts to social care and youth services. He said that the council needed to start investing in the elderly and young people again.
Reid (IND) said that the sickle cell unit had been cut in half, which was an important issue for him. He agreed that more youth clubs and centres should be opened, stating that young people need to be given more practical skills.
Schmitz (LD) thought that greater provision of mental health facilities was needed and equal weight should be given to mental and physical health.
Ejiofor (LAB) urged people to read the Labour manifesto and explained that the next administration has a number of different views to the previous one. He said that youth crime was not just about youth services and said that it requires investment and engagement across many other areas including the police, public realm, community leaders and residents. In regards to health he thought parity of esteem was important.
El Gamry (CON) believes in parity of esteem and felt that important decisions should be taken by a panel of GPs, not the council. He believes that the NHS has no coherent long term plan and that a comprehesive package for mental health needs to be provided which needs significant investment. In relation to the youth question he asked why young kids felt the needs to carry knives and guns in our society, explaining that gang culture offers them something that mainstream society isn’t giving them. (This provoked a man to shout out from the audience).
A White Hart Lane resident said to Ejiofor (LAB) that the current Labour council has run White Hart Lane into the ground. ‘I’ve lived there for a very long time and if I’m cynical I’d say you’ve run it to the ground so you can start selling things off which is what you were doing with the HDV. Reassure me that you understand social housing and affordable housing. How are things going to be different? What are you going to put in place in relation to social housing?’
Ejiofor (LAB) said that he wanted to change the definition of affordability and mentioned a recent green paper by Jeremy Corbyn which said nobody should spend more than a third of their income on their housing. He said previous proposals for the HDV were not what he wanted to do. After further heated discussion between the audience member and the candidate, the chair asked him if he voted for or against the HDV. They finally found out that he had abstained on one vote.
El Gamry (CON) asked ‘why don’t we let councils borrow?’ He believes that councils are assets not liabilities and likened well run councils to well run businesses that should be invested in.
Schmitz (LD) pointed out that the HDV could have been killed off in February, but instead it was postponed.
Francis (GRN) spoke about how he had met many people from the community from the Love Lane Estate, opposite the new stadium, and had discovered that one family had been in temporary accommodation for eleven years, and another had been moved around six times. He said that the general community no longer trust the council, pointing out that the Green party support the provision of more social housing.
Reid (IND) said his first priority would be reducing the social housing waiting list which has 10,000 people on it.
Ovash (TUSC) said we need solutions to the housing crisis – we need mass council house building as well as other projects.
Ejiofor (LAB) said ‘regeneration must involve the people that live there, it’s not about moving people out.’
A question was asked about the traffic in the area, explaining that there were speeding drivers, poor bus services and a huge amount of traffic that comes into and through the area. He asked what could be done to change the way transport works.
Francis (GRN)’s main focus was improving the roads to be more pedestrian and cyclist friendly and even suggested that some of the roads like St Ann’s and West Green Road could get rid of cars completely.
Ovash (TUSC) said that pollution near schools was over the legal limit in places and said that public transport and options for school transport needed to be looked at and improved. He felt that we needed more well maintained cycle paths that are divided from the road.
El Gamry (CON) said ‘bring back lollypop man or woman’.
Ejiofor (LAB) once again referred to the Labour manifesto (this did make us wonder how many people in the community actually have time to read large documents from each party). He mentioned Labour’s pledge to reach zero carbon by 2050. He said more alternatives were needed to the car, bus services should be reviewed, cycling and walking routes, air quality around schools and building sites needed to be improved.
Schmitz (LD) asked ‘how do we discourage through traffic? It doesn’t actually have to come through Tottenham.’ He stated that more cycle routes and traffic calming measures are needed.
Nearing the end of the debate an audience member asked, how are you going to stop gentrification and improve living conditions for local residents?
Ejiofor (LAB) said one of the most important things was to improve the quality of housing in Tottenham and Haringey. ‘Haringey as a council need to prioritise housing for Haringey people.’
El Gamry (CON) said the council needs to take responsibility to ensure rogue landlords are sanctioned. Ovash (TUSC) agreed that rogue landlords should be sanctioned and good affordable council housing should be built.
Schmitz (LD) suggested that developers must build a reasonable amount of affordable housing and would like to see 50% affordable housing.
Francis (GRN) said 50% should be council homes, and that the current affordable rate is not acceptable and the High Road West redevelopment has removed lots of local businesses.
Reid (IND) said more opportunities were needed for local people. He believed that the council should start with 25 – 30% affordable housing and increase year on year, and that social housing should have the main priority.
Finally the candidates were asked how they plan to improve relations within the community.
Reid (IND) runs an annual family fun day where people can meet their neighbours.
Francis (GRN) said he planned to be more involved with StART.
Ovash (TUSC) wanted to focus on improving people’s lives and go back to basics by opposing cuts, building houses, giving youth a home, restoring and reopening youth and dementia centres.
Schmitz (LD) said he would knock on doors, find out where problems are, and take it up with the council.
Ejiofor (LAB) said he wanted fair representation with every member of Haringey, and said the council will be having a number of conversations and hopes people will engage.
El Gamry (CON) wants to continue to visit local faith communities who are there to support vulnerable members of society.
We had been sat in a boiling hot auditorium in Park View School due to an unprecedented April heat wave, and had just enough time to hear the closing statements and then pile out into the night.
Ovash (TUSC) said there needs to be a massive house building programme led by council, and that they should support health workers and families. He wanted to see the reopening of some of the centres, closing with ‘reopen the youth centres now’.
Francis (GRN) also wants to see the reopening of youth centres, said he would work with the council to improve the condition in the area, wants a positive outlook for the community as a whole and wants to reduce pollution aiming for zero carbon by 2030.
Reid (IND) wants to deal with the social housing problem first, wants more affordable housing and support for the sick and their carers.
Schmitz (LD) says he doesn’t support council plans for one large youth centre as this could be dangerous due to post code gangs. He would like to see mental health first aiders in schools and wants to restore provision for dementia sufferers.
Ejiofor (LAB) said he was keen to support the StART project financially, he is serious about improving air quality, affordable housing should be based on income not market rents, he wants to see investment in youth and community services and work with young people to design a service for them, and wants to financially support young people to remain in education after 16. He wants to see more council homes built on council land.
El Gamry (CON) wants to ensure all council tax payers money is spent wisely, he wants to protect Chesnut’s park and Middlesex hospital and claimed he will ensure that pledges that central government have made actually happen for Haringey.
The election of councillors to Haringey Council will take place at polling stations on Thursday 3 May 2018.