North Tottenham: What’s it like? What does it need? How do we get it?

Introduction and Summary

I write about the area in which I grew up and where I feel a deep personal commitment to its success. My links remain firm. I am patron of the Foundation started by the football club, Tottenham Hotspur. I have regular contact with local schools and colleges and have enjoyed mentoring pupils and students – indeed, I learn from them all the time. At national level I chaired the Cabinet Office’s National Inquiry into Housing Benefit, an issue fundamental to Funding Affordable Homes.

This brief analysis of what was my home area demonstrates that the keys to a successful life for individuals and families is a stable and modern home. Aspirations are for the most part strong but the means to success have to be created. It is secure, good housing which correlates most strongly with every other kind of social advance. Funding Affordable Homes is at once a sound long-term commercial proposition for investors and it is the key to major improvements. The past shows the challenges. Fortunately it also shows exactly what we can do. And it shows how it can be done together with local people.

When the Mayor, Boris Johnson, asked me to be his ‘champion’ in helping change the future of Tottenham and Enfield, I can only say I thought ‘at last’ and jumped at the opportunity and challenge. It was finally clear that irrespective of politics, everyone was committed to a long-term solution and determined to see it through.

The Rt Hon the Lord David Triesman of Tottenham

1. Background

  • Tottenham has a difficult image today. Two riots in a generation and an inaccurate perception of insecurity have not served the borough well. Its largely Victorian residential environment was once thought pleasant and desirable. Its population diversity was admired. Yet its image is now tarnished, its housing decaying, some of its schools excellent but even these are lights hidden under a bushel.
  • Tottenham’s people may be a little cynical about the many consultations and initiatives which lacked traction. But all the research shows them to be optimistic. They need better schools and healthcare, more reliable employment. Most emphatically, they need better homes. Tottenham calls for a practical vision directing the energy of local people to a sense of place. There is a desire to create this from the bottom up. They are not confident about solutions which ‘do things to them’. At the heart of this is the desire to build a community around decent homes in which aspiring families can pursue decent lives.

2. The consequences of constant movement

  • Such positive change depends on population stability. Yet Tottenham’s population has a very high level of churn. In general, a school class of 30 at the beginning of a school year will have 10 of the same children in class by the end of that year. It disrupts the education of individuals and classes. Churn in healthcare breaks up continuity of efficacious treatment resulting in worse health outcomes and mounting treatment costs. Temporary residency leads to falling standards in care of accommodation and the immediate environment. The quality of life declines.
  • The root cause is people leaving low-quality accommodation, being forced to leave temporary accommodation, having to move to find work. Migrants move on as soon as they are economically able to do so. It is a negative spiral.
  • Poor housing damages the urban environment, prospects of prosperity, health, education, personal safety and community identity – pride in where we live. Preventing these outcomes is the top priority goal and the best outcome will be driven by investment in good homes, in a sound base for the rest of life’s activities.

3. Homes: the cornerstone of improvement

  • The loss of an industrial legacy, poor planning and poor urban management have created a significant but reversible problem. Planning blockages have impeded change until recently. And housing is the toughest challenge. In the N15 and N17 postcodes are located 60 percent of the Council’s social housing and the poorest quality private rented accommodation. A quarter of it is overcrowded and it has one of the highest benefit claimant rates in the UK.
  • Nobody, of course, intended social housing to make poverty worse. Yet it has, in conditions of under-supply, been allocated to the most challenged families. Grouped together, these families experience high rates of intergenerational unemployment creating concentrations and cultures of people in poverty. They experience high rates of educational underachievement, ill-health and a greater than normal propensity to mental illness and crime.
  • But this cycle can be broken. Most of all, everyone accepts, this involves decreasing housing waiting lists and reducing the delay in providing good standard social housing with secure tenancy. This will decrease overcrowding and shrink the number of temporary homes. Tottenham needs long-term homes of good standard.
  • These are the very challenges spurring Tottenham’s greatest opportunity. The new Tottenham Hotspur FC stadium, associated residential development, and the opening of shops, and the generation of jobs will be on a large scale, driven by the scale of the stadium and associated infrastructure.
  • The creation of new public spaces and places of community focus are high on the planning agenda. Transport through Tottenham and neighbouring Edmonton (in the Borough of Enfield) serves the wider UK community but not Tottenham and Edmonton. Now, however, local housing, social and business needs are being addressed. Agreement has been reached in Westminster to upgrade significantly the surface rail network – a spine through the area linking the potential new homes with long-term employment. There will be two new stations serving these communities.
  • Alongside the football club, Sainsbury has opened a super-store. A ‘village centre’ with retail content is planned at adjacent Tottenham Hale with growth in new residential and student accommodation developments. There are major improvements in retail just to the north of Tottenham at The Angel, Edmonton. Aldi are scheduled to move in.
  • Planners are now looking at and accessing government funding (HCA and GLA). But it is not directed at the social and affordable housing requirement. Here lies the greatest long-term investment opportunity.
  • Planning activity at a far better level, improvement of green spaces and shop frontages and rubbish collection are now the focus of the local authority. An assets register will speed development decisions.
  • Town centres will be created helping more efficient retail and fostering other businesses. There will be a major extension and improvement of recreational outlets. And there is a significant private review of the prospects of locating a government facility with a long lease to drive up visitor footfall.
  • The housing investment is large (12,000-15,000 homes with larger numbers possible). The related activities reported will be the sufficient conditions to create a desirable environment. It is, quite simply, the housing which is the necessary condition for success.  [Key data on housing, rateable values, employment and unemployment is available in the Greater London Development Plan, 2012; and in the statistics provided annually by the Department for Communities and Local Government.]

4. Growth and employment

  • Linking homes and viable employment is of critical importance. Evidence abounds that Tottenham and Edmonton people are well-motivated but in instances lack job-finding skills. The Victoria Line opened nearly 50 years ago. Jobs moved down the line and away. The new master plans aim to reverse this trend. New jobs are being created and many more of them will go to local people. A raft of opportunities are being created in Enfield just to the north in the Brimsdown Estate and in market gardening in the west of the borough. There is a growth in SMEs in creative businesses in music and IT in North Tottenham. The university hospital at North Middlesex is a centre of growing specialization.
  • The pattern of growth is generally associated with early stage entrepreneurship. It is highly correlated with growth in banking, local restaurants, health clubs, and mainstream services. Indeed, BT can now connect local businesses and homes with broadband services up to 330 Mbs. The Third Sector is growing. Local colleges – enjoying good reputations – are addressing urgently skills shortages.
  • All these developments call for population stability. It becomes a virtuous circle when a settled population with deep roots experiences intergenerational employment.

5. Other initiatives

  • A programme of school improvement and youth engagement is gathering momentum. Tottenham schools have all the characteristics of inner urban London yet were funded as an outer London borough. They received £1,138 per student per year less than neighbouring Hackney schools. An agreement was reached in Westminster to fund Tottenham schools at inner London rates and this is having its initial impact.
  • Overcrowded homes make the completion of homework and coursework particularly challenging for over 25 percent of students. Plainly this is part of the housing issue.
  • Many parents had inadequate educational experiences. Few entered higher education. This has led to lower aspirations in this group but it is now being actively addressed by the schools and colleges (and the football club). Success however depends on reducing population churn. Lower aspirations can discourage the most able teachers from applying to work in the area as does the difficulty they experience in finding an appropriate home. These are challenges which have to be met. The importance of schools cannot be overstated. Their success depends in large part on a strong base in a strong and stable community.
  • Renewed effort is visible in relations between business and schools to improve employability. For example, the TH Foundation has sponsored apprenticeships, work-shadowing and internships with businesses of all sizes including the major law, accountancy and consulting firms (a model being followed by other London football clubs). Mentoring is reaching new levels. Many of the skills acquired are directly relevant to local employment.
  • After a long history of tension between Tottenham residents and the Metropolitan Police, active steps are improving the relationship under the guidance of local community groups and an outstanding Borough Police Commander. Senior police leaders now have somewhat greater room for manoeuvre and discussions are currently taking place which may well add to employment and foster community relations. Here again, community building would be transformative.
  • Healthcare in the borough is complex. Of many concerns, overcrowding is the most serious with multiple occupancy causing a 25 percent increase in recorded child ill-health. Hospital A&E departments have a higher rate of attendance than elsewhere creating unusually high healthcare costs. The problem is graphically illustrated by the fact that a No 41 bus travelling east through the borough passes through areas with six months less life expectancy for each bus stop on the route.
  • In the North Middlesex University Hospital neonatal unit, one third of newborns remain in hospital after they would normally be discharged. Some of this is caused by delays in care case resolution times. Some are born into families with unsuitable housing. The two factors are linked. Again, illustratively, every child who does not enter care saves the exchequer £43,500.

6. In conclusion

  • The data as a whole speak for themselves. They are a pattern of challenge and opportunity. London has prospered in recent decades. There is new employment, growing investment and effective housing policies. Many boroughs have seen large increases in numbers of people employed (since 1961, neighbouring Camden at +50,000; Tower Hamlets at +72,000). In each case growth is associated with large scale regeneration. In each case the economic geography was most heavily correlated with changes in housing. Success is self-fulfilling. With housing and employment growth came larger Non Domestic Rateable Value. Haringey, including Tottenham, by contrast saw its NDRV decline between 1966 and 2011 from an already low base of 1.6 percent of London’s total NDRV to 1.0 percent.
  • The area is ripe for redevelopment and this has social and affordable housing at its heart. Everyone knows it and accepts it whether in Westminster or Tottenham High Road. Change is starting and a number of measurable social projects will be woven into the fabric of success. For those who grew up in social housing in North Tottenham, attended its schools, were looked after by its GPs, who have retained their links and ambitions wherever their lives have taken them, there is also the undimmed commitment to be the champions of this change.

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