What one council did with a large development site

EDDC and Knowle and local NHS Estates: hang your heads in shame and pay particular attention to the last paragraph.

Housing can be a gloomy beat: most news stories focus on eviction rates, homelessness, rising house prices and rent rates locking people out of stable homes, while council housing is forcibly sold thanks to short-sighted government policies.

Obviously, bad news needs to be reported; often the people most subject to discrimination and homelessness are precisely those people the political class view as voiceless. But amid the doom, small symbols of hope appear in housing.

One such example, in a corner of Haringey, is the St Ann’s redevelopment trust Start: a disparate team of local residents working together to try to work out what housing the local area needs and then deliver it. The St Ann’s hospital site in the borough is being partially sold off – two thirds of it has been earmarked for private development. In itself, that is not unusual. The NHS has a lot of land that’s undeveloped or hasn’t been in use, and with services changing, empty sites often pop up.

Originally the plan was for the site to be sold for private housing development, with only 14% of the homes being classed as “affordable” (itself a loaded term). But Start Haringey had different ideas. It wanted to use the land for a genuinely community-led development and asked locals what they wanted to see in the area. The organisation held consultation events with hundreds of attendees, circulated a survey completed by more than 300 locals, and collaborated with architects, who were asked how the community’s desires could be realised.

The clear winners were truly affordable housing, and a development that considers health in the built environment and the need to be environmentally friendly. St Ann’s already has areas of great natural beauty that the community wants to retain, but locals also pressed the importance of green space that is accessible to all, not fenced off.

With mental health services continuing to run from the remainder of the site, the community was keen to integrate the development into the existing NHS services. The provision of affordable housing would not only be sympathetic to the needs of patients and staff at the hospital, but could also provide valuable accommodation for people who wish to live independently with support. At the same time, local outreach work could be carried out, so early intervention and preventative health work could seamlessly integrate into the development if done properly.

Community land trusts are growing in numbers throughout the UK, but perhaps key to this group’s success so far is how easy it is to get involved: meetings on the progress of the plan are held weekly at a local school, with a housing sub-group looking particularly at the type of buildings St Ann’s could benefit from. They’re open to all those in the area over the age of 16, and, while membership is £1, anyone can contribute without becoming a member. Costs are covered by a crowdfunding campaign, which is a quarter of the way to its target with over 100 backers. The funds will allow the group to finish the architect’s plans and put together a bid for the site.

Starting with a bottom-up approach, Start Haringey has developed a genuinely costed and doable plan for a development that meets local needs and helps mitigate the housing crisis locally.

Too often, locals are completely locked out of public consultations on the very land they live on, and neighbourhoods they have called home for decades: the assumption that locals don’t care about development simply isn’t true. You only need to see the strength of feeling involved in the many housing protests around the country. But in many cases, residents are patronised, offered a so-called choice between very similar models of development, and are never asked what they want their local area to look like – or, more importantly, why. Start Haringey shows that the appetite for proper consultation is there, and the political will to devote time to doing so is rising.