CC Flickr user: Kake

Latin American Community ‘Betrayed’ by Council Plans to Let Private Developers Demolish Tottenham Market

A community in North London says it has been betrayed by the local council, which is to help private developers demolish a popular Latin American market and cultural hub despite opposition from traders, residents and the United Nations.

Haringey Council announced in January that it will act on a compulsory purchase order (CPO) served on Tottenham’s Pueblito Paisa market, following approval from the secretary of state.

Although the news was not unexpected, it is a setback for local residents, activists and traders who have been fighting for 12 years to save the iconic indoor market from demolition, in what is widely considered to be one of North London’s most important battles against gentrification.

A campaign by the community, operating as the N15 Development Trust, recently surpassed its crowdfunding target, raising £9,300 to push forward with a pioneering, community-orientated redevelopment plan for the site near Seven Sisters station.

But with only six weeks to appeal the CPO, the community is now racing against the clock to ensure this plan is considered.

Architect and activist Ben Beach told Novara Media that far from being deterred, the trust has been reinvigorated by the bad news and is working faster and harder than ever to finalise and submit the alternative plan – which is intended to rival the bid by chosen property developer Grainger PLC – within the timeframe.

The N15 Development Trust wants to democratise the regeneration process by handing over decision-making, redevelopment plans and long-term management of the TFL-owned site to the local community. If the trust succeeds, profits will be reinvested into the borough and the people who live in it. The scheme has offered hope to other groups fighting gentrification in the capital, including communities in Elephant and Castle and Dalston.

Beach described the trust’s plan as an example of municipal socialism – something Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor has advocated for in the past. Although the CPO has been allowed by the government, Beach said that ultimately Ejiofor, who also sits on the executive committee of Momentum, has the power to make the final decision.

Since 2004, most members of Pueblito Paisa’s majority Latin American community of traders have fervently opposed plans to demolish the market, which they say would result in the loss of two decades of community building around a unique and captivating space, that offers culturally specific products to under-served Latin American communities.

Last year, a team of human rights experts sent by the United Nations to investigate gentrification in the area, warned of the threat to cultural life presented by such redevelopments and even recommended Latin Village traders’ entitlement to operate on the site be recognised as a human right.

Grainger, a real estate developer chosen by the council in 2004, has submitted a plan to build around 200 luxury apartments on the site – not a single one will be social housing – along with 40,000 square feet of retail space, including a new purpose built market. Existing traders have been offered space in the new indoor market, but they do not trust this will be sustainable.

Traders say they have faced intimidation from Grainger for over a decade and do not believe the market will be able to retain its character in the new site, which may quickly become unaffordable for many shopkeepers.

As Vicky Álvarez, a trader and an active member of the N15 campaign put it:

“The market is an ecosystem; a fragile one that shouldn’t be perturbed.”

Patrick Rey, who runs a money transfer shop at the site, told Novara Media he did not want to work with Grainger because of the way the developer had treated him.

“I want to be free of the people who have been harassing and bullying me for the past 12 years,” he said.

“I want a normal life. We’re talking about 12 years of fighting. It’s just all-consuming stress.”

Pueblito Paisa is named after a small town in Medellín, Colombia, but the vibrant community includes people from all over Central and South America, as well as some African countries.

Aside from being a place to come together and celebrate culturally significant events – like Colombian football hero Yerry Mina’s 2018 World Cup goal against England – its shops are stocked with some of Colombia’s most popular basic goods, including an array of traditional cacao brands for making hot chocolate or panela, and the country’s favourite unrefined sugar cane sweetener.

One can hear Buenas, the all-day Colombian greeting, while strolling around the diverse units of the market. Whether a hair or nail salon, a money exchange, a legal service, a restaurant or a mini-supermarket – including the one which occasionally, and creatively, turns into a salsa dance floor on weekends – each unit is neatly organised to make the most out of the limited space.

As traders constantly speak and wave to each other across the hallways, where many children have grown up, it’s impossible not to feel the solidarity and camaraderie of the place.

Widely considered to be one of London’s cultural gems, losing the site would mean losing not only a meeting place for different immigrant communities but also a space to counter the powerlessness of being away from one’s own country – for the traders as much as for the thousands of visitors it receives annually.

The case to preserve the market has been made repeatedly, including in 2008 by unlikely advocate Boris Johnson, who was mayor of London at the time.

After over a decade of fighting, the community maintains that their demands to the council and Grainger – including guaranteeing their right to continue trading in the new building, securing rent levels and preserving the essence of the indoor market – have not been met. This means the N15 plan is the community’s only real and viable alternative to a Pizza Express and Costa-friendly redevelopment, that quickly shunts them out.

A council spokesperson told Novara Media that if the trust submits an application it will be “considered on its own merits and assessed against planning policy”, but since the local authority has publicly renewed its support for the Grainger plan, there are growing concerns among the community that the N15 bid won’t be given a fair chance.

Replying to a request for comment on the allegations made in this article, the council said that if the development agreement was cancelled at this stage, the courts may decide to award damages to Grainger that could amount to many millions of pounds. This adds to a financial motive for upholding the CPO and continuing to support the private developers scheme.

Pushing ahead regardless, the N15 trust has commissioned a full business plan, architectural designs, a heritage consultation report and is running consultations with the community and doing outreach work with its members.

“We want to develop the building ourselves, so it’s a place for everyone in Tottenham, not just the wealthy,” Álvarez explained.

Beach elaborated on this. “We want the local community to have common ownership of the land upon which the indoor market is built and lead future plans for the site,” he said.

“The N15 Development Trust intends to socialise profits within the community by reinvesting funds in other community plans within Tottenham, allowing the market to act as a catalyst for the wider creation of a ‘Tottenham in common’.”

The architecture itself will serve as a manifesto for community action, Beach added, a figurative floor plan to inspire other community-led regeneration projects.

According to David McEwen, a designer from Unit 38, the architects practice developing the plan for the building, the aim is to build a site that supports the creation of social networks. 

Tom Chance, director of the National Community Land Trusts Network, said he thought the plan could work; similar bids have succeeded in the past. “It’s possible for Community Land Trusts to get long-term leases on land,” he said.

“Even if they can’t get full ownership, TFL has given the lease to other CLT’s in London on exactly those terms. In other parts of the country this has been happening. It’s ultimately a question of credibility, as well as the community being able to demonstrate they have a strong backing of the wider community in the area, as well as from the council.”

The council’s relationship with the market community has always been fraught, with the local authority having made several attempts to ensure Grainger’s development plans got the green light.

The Council signed a contractual agreement with the developer in 2007, then in 2016 it issued the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) that has just been approved and – unless overturned – will ensure Grainger can finish acquiring the site and the long-term lease from TFL.

Before news broke that the CPO had been approved, some current councillors, understanding their voter base, had pledged to support the market. Álvarez was hopeful, “we are seeing winds of change in this new administration, with some councillors looking to engage with the community,” she said, when she first spoke to Novara in December.

But it appears the council has little loyalty to the traders. By stating repeatedly that the CPO is a legacy of the previous administration, Ejiofor’s council appears to be attempting to publicly wash its hands of all moral responsibility for the eviction and demolition of the market, suggesting misleadingly that something is already in motion that cannot be halted. In reality, the current council has made a choice to uphold the order, despite it being within its power not to. To the Pueblito Paisa community, this is a total betrayal.

Traders say it is typical of the council to make statements and take action to keep up appearances while actually showing little concern for the community. For instance, several years ago the council set up a steering committee of stakeholders, including representatives from Grainger, site manager Waterbridge (a company accused of rapacious management of the site and the lease), Haringey councillors and traders. This has allowed both the local authority and the developer to claim the consultation process was democratic and to say they are working alongside the local community.

Jonathan Kiddle, Senior Development Manager at Grainger, said exactly this when asked to comment. “We are in Seven Sisters for the long term and have a vested interest in working with the whole community to make our scheme a success,” he told Novara.

He added: “That is why, among other things, we are providing a brand new purpose-built space for the traders at the market in the same location… We are also setting rents for a five year period at fair levels to provide traders with additional security and certainty.”

However traders said the steering meetings were a farce and have actually only served to increase their fears about the future of the market. “They are wasting our time,” Rey said. “Nothing has happened. They’re getting paid to attend these meetings, not us.”

Álvarez echoed Rey’s concerns.

“The steering group has not reflected the interests of my community,” she said.

“It all feels like a farce, it has never worked for us. We’re three years in and nothing has changed. We are still saying the same things and they are keeping us distracted by not letting the conversation move away from maintenance issues: we’re struggling with the deplorable state of the garage, the bathroom, the rug”.

When asked for comment, the council said that traders will be moved to a new temporary market when the current site is demolished, and their relocation costs will be covered. When traders move back to the new site they will be guaranteed the same space they have currently and get a 30% discount on rent for the first 18 months and fixed rent for the first 30. Notably, this already sounds like a reduction on the five years ‘fair rent’ originally promised by the developer and it could still mean traders are paying far more if rents are significantly higher in the new site, making spaces unaffordable for many.

According to Álvarez, and contrary to what has been implied publicly, it has become clear through steering group meetings that Grainger cannot guarantee stable and affordable rent to the community for the first five years.

“I’ve asked them several times, how can we protect ourselves?” Álvarez explained, “and they can’t even guarantee how much it’s [the rent] going to be, which is a key conversation to have. They say ‘you have to understand you’re going to have better facilities’.”

Upon hearing the news of the demolition, the N15 Development Trust slammed the council, which the group alleges did not even contact traders directly to tell them it had decided to uphold the CPO.

Activists said the short time to appeal the decision and submit an alternative plan had focused the group and a heightened sense of injustice is mobilising people.

Backing for the project is only getting stronger, with local people increasingly rallying behind the traders. In addition to the successful crowdfunder, members of the wider community and activists from inside and outside the borough have been reaching out. 

Rey said he found the level of support being offered very moving.“It’s difficult to believe that so many people could be helping us,” he said. “Suddenly you have people, just normal run-of-the-mill people, from different nationalities and different background who suddenly got around and helped us.”

“It’s very emotional because I appreciate everything that they do so much. It’s very difficult but I thank everybody for what they’ve done.”

As communities fighting similar struggles across the capital and the country take inspiration from one another, and as people realise the value cultural institutions like Latin Village offer their local area, a major truth is becoming clear: ultimately and independently of the political tide, the community knows what the community needs.

As Álvarez put it: “No one manages better the area that they belong to. This is an area of resistance.”

This article was amended on 4 February to add that Haringey Council could be liable for damages of up to “many millions of pounds” and signed a contractual agreement with the developer in 2007. A previous version of the article did not state the extent of the potential damages and stated that the council signed off on an application by the developer, rather than entered into a contract. 

Published 4th February 2019

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