It has all the ingredients of what the media herd calls “a great story”. But the slightest grazing of the surface of the adapted-for-journalists version of the saga of the Seven Sisters Indoor Market, known to some as the Latin Village, reveals realities far removed from the romantic tale of valiant little Latin American traders circling their wagons round their south Tottenham redoubt and gloriously repelling invading property developers – that make-believe rendering of this emblematic affair that is endlessly reproduced with such bovine credulity everywhere from the Guardian to Time Out.
Available on YouTube is a recording of this month’s meeting of Haringey Council’s housing and regeneration scrutiny panel, which captures as a matter of sobering public record both the long-standing divisions among the market traders and the very large gap that currently exists between, on the one hand, the high-flown aspirations of the campaign to “save” the market and the crumbling ex-Wards furniture store it used to inhabit in the name of fighting gentrification and, on the other, its capacity to actually deliver.
Councillors heard two deputations. The first was presented by Marta Hinestroza, who ran a hairdressing business within the market from 2006 until the recent closure of most of it because it is unsafe. With an interpreter’s help, Hinestroza introduced herself as having come to London as a refugee from paramilitary death squads in Colombia in 2002. She described playing a significant part in setting up an advice and cultural centre in the market building and as initially supporting a “community plan” for it, including by raising money.
However, she went on describe disagreements among the plan’s advocates, saying she had been excluded from the project and later “publicly called a traitor” and subjected to a malicious “whispering campaign”. Hinestroza expressed “grave misgivings” about those heading the community plan campaign and argued that the council should step in to ensure that if that plan moves towards fruition it is not in the control of “two or three people”. This, in her view, was the only way “to ensure fair treatment and ensure the health and safety of the traders and the public.” It seems a significant number of her fellow traders have similar concerns.
The second deputation was led by an academic, Myfanwy Taylor, of the West Green Road/Seven Sisters Development Trust (which sometimes calls itself the N15 Development Trust). She made the financial case for the community plan, which has secured planning consent, citing “professional studies” she said demonstrate its viability. Taylor described the plan as “a £13 million development which will be funded through £6 million of identified grant funding, £6 million of ethical investment and a £1 million community share issue.”
She said a majority of the traders support this proposal. She did not, however, say where this “identified grant funding” was going to come from, only that “we can secure it”. She later implicitly acknowledged that it might never be forthcoming, saying that loans raised for the enterprise would be repaid after 42 years “if no grant funding is secured”. Of the theoretical “ethical investment”, she could say only that “informal discussions” with a couple of banks have taken place. As for the “community share issue”, Taylor said it would be “the largest that’s ever been delivered” and that £1 million would be its upper ceiling.
Rents for the traders “will be maintained at existing levels” she said, and the envisaged new market run by a new organisation, yet to be formed, called the Wards Corner Community Benefit Society. Taylor said this would be “a democratic organisation owned by its members delivering the community plan and managing the building on the long term basis for the benefit of the community on a one member, one vote basis.” It would be “open to all traders and community members” with surpluses ploughed back into other “community projects”.
All of this fine talk conceals a simple truth: the Trust has practically no money and no immediate prospect of raising the £13 million it says will be enough to put its plan into effect. Taylor did, though, at least acknowledge one of the other huge obstacles she and her comrades must overcome. As she obliquely put it: “The lack of a sightline to the lease from Transport for London remains a barrier.” In other words, the Trust doesn’t actually own the building for which it has such grand ambitions. And it is a long way from ever doing so.
The council, under the new leadership of Peray Ahmet, has backed the “community plan”. But, although it owns some land in the wider Wards Corner site, it is not in command of the situation. The freehold of the Wards building is held by London Underground Ltd – effectively Transport for London – as it stands on ground above Seven Sisters station. TfL had intended to grant a 250-year lease to Grainger, a major builder of residential property for rent, enabling a very long-running plan to redevelop the site to create nearly 200 flats and some new retail space, including spaces for the market traders at initially discounted rents.
The deal recently collapsed when Grainger, despite having spent millions of pounds on the project over the years, withdrew from it, saying the numbers no longer added up. This turn of events was duly hailed, in the dimwit populist fashion of the day, as a triumph for “the community” over the enemy forces of private capital and “social cleansing”. The Guardian, in its boundless gullibility about these issues, even gave Taylor and her two fellow trustees – who include trader Victoria Alvarez, the media’s go-to source for photo ops and fighting talk – a platform from which to spin their preferred version of events.
But TfL is not about to hand over the keys to an organisation whose most recently filed accounts showed it had assets of £8,682, which has no experience in property development, and which can’t even claim to represent all of the market’s traders. As a public body, TfL has responsibilities to its commercial tenants and also to make prudent financial decisions about public assets – it needs to make money from its property portfolio to invest in transport services. And it is TfL that is in by far the strongest position to shape what happens next.
My information from the transport body is that, unlike the council, it has no intention of backing one group of traders against the wishes of the others – it believes it has an equal responsibility to them all – and desires instead to appoint a board with representation from all interested parties and an independent chair to lead all activity relating to the wider Wards Corner site.
That activity would include building a small temporary market within the development site, separate from the Wards building, while also creating a larger market space nearby to which traders could move while the Wards building undergoes the substantial repair work it needs to meet safety standards. TfL has already assessed the latter task, causing it to close the market interior after taking over the management of it. That part alone, I’m told, would cost millions.
It would then take “tens of millions” more to undertake some combination of refurbishment and redevelopment of what is quite a difficult site – ask architects Pollard Thomas Edwards who designed the Grainger scheme – in tandem with another property development firm or consortium, probably including a mix of private and “affordable” housing, that would stack up financially and at last enable the return of the “Latin Village” to its former base.
Financial calculations would have to include buying out Grainger’s considerable freehold interest in the parts of development site that lie outside the Wards building footprint – they own more than 60 per cent of it. The previous Haringey leader, Joseph Ejiofor, said the company had spent around £19 million assembling this land. Grainger will surely want to get as much of that money back as possible. And the Development Trust proclaims that it can put its whole plan into effect with £13 million it hasn’t got.
When Ahmet became Haringey leader, ousting Ejiofor, some Labour councillors said it represented a win for the “sensible left” over the “Corbyn Council” formed after the 2018 borough elections following a Momentum-led councillor deselection campaign. Yet the new cabinet member for housing and development, Ruth Gordon, gives every impression of being more Corbynite than Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn himself joined the celebrations over Grainger’s withdrawal.
Gordon’s contribution to the scrutiny panel meeting, which had to be curtailed by the panel chair, underlined her conviction, which she shares with the Development Trust, that Haringey now has a fantastic opportunity to emulate the so-called “Preston Model”, through which public bodies tailor their procurement practices to the cause of “community wealth building” rather than doing business with large private companies.
But the Preston set-up has quite different ingredients, and seems to be based on cogent practicalities rather than being an ideological crusade sustained by a far-reaching propaganda network and framed by a fanciful far left template. Could the council itself provide substantial funding? Ejiofor had no time for the idea: not a wise or appropriate way for a cash-strapped local authority to spend its squeezed resources, in his view (and likely that of the council’s finance department too). Other councillors remarked privately at the time that risking large sums on one local cultural grouping would cause others to ask why they too were not enjoying such largesse.
Meanwhile, the Wards building continues to crumble, local residents continue to complain that it blights their neighbourhood, and lurid allegations continue to be made – an anonymous leaflet has lately been circulated, claiming that TfL plans a “hostile development” of the market to bring about its “gentrification” and “destruction”.
In truth, TfL now offers the only serious hope for a London Latin American retail and cultural quarter to survive and thrive in Seven Sisters. Haringey Council can either help TfL or hinder it. There’s not much to be said for the latter course.
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