Thursday, 31 May 2012

Tottenham, Seven Sisters, Wards Corner: Homes and livelihoods at stake. Who is 'regeneration' for?

A touch of tinpot dictatorship took a grip of Tottenham Town Hall last night (30 May).
Heavy security for a public meeting…with some real ‘heavies’ too.
No cameras.
No recording. 
Not much press freedom here. And, cheekily, a council officer asked if any media were present. Perhaps he wanted to ban my notepad too. Jobs and livelihoods were at stake but this exercise in local democracy came with a strong pong of cynicism.
 Last night’s public meeting was billed by Haringey Council as a ‘development management forum’ to give local Tottenham residents a chance to ask questions about developer Grainger’s latest planning application to demolish and develop Wards Corner. It's a famous local landmark and a longstanding cluster of homes, shops and a market run by Latin American, African and Asian traders above Seven Sisters tube station. 
 Wards Corner is also more than simply a little local Tottenham difficulty. Wards Corner also raises a London-wide question, 'Is regeneration for existing local people and independent traders or for wealthier newcomers and chain stores?'
 Haringey and Grainger have a longstanding development agreement to develop Wards Corner. Apparently, the agreement expires soon. Nerves and patience seem to be expiring too.
 The meeting itself ended abruptly amid anger and disarray after little more than half an hour. There were no flames but a bit of heat and fire.
 Many of the 250 people in the hall voiced their dismay at Grainger’s planning agent, Chris Frost of ASP. Frost angered opponents of Grainger’s plans when he said he was unable to answer certain questions.
 They also angrily chastised Haringey councillors and officers for refusing to answer their questions.
 As security guards cleared the uproarious room, a predictable urban choreography unfolded outside the town hall on Tottenham High Road. The Council and Grainger, whose development agreement on Wards Corner runs out this summer, can now both claim they did their best to dutifully carry out their legal responsibility to consult local people - although no Grainger representative was present.
 Opponents of Grainger’s latest scheme, many belonging to the Wards Corner Coalition of residents, business people and market traders, jeered Frost and his colleagues and Haringey officers as they left the Town Hall. Several claimed both Grainger and Haringey had deliberately intended to refuse to answer questions or hear local people’s views. Pantomine definitely came early to Tottenham this year.
 Just outside Seven Sisters tube station an unruffled spokesman for a PR agency representing Grainger told me that people at the meeting were not representative of local residents.
 He claimed a majority of 577 adult Seven Sisters residents showed their “overwhelming support” for Grainger’s proposals in a face-to-face, door-to-door survey carried out by the ComRes agency last April. Outside the Town Hall, one local resident, who didn't want to be named, voiced her support for Grainger's plans as "modernist" and "just what the area needs for its young people".
 Asked why Grainger, self-billed as the UK’s largest residential developer, are so intent on developing Wards Corner – despite fierce and long-standing local opposition – the PR guy said Grainger was simply committed to improving the area, adding that some of Grainger's corporate officers had personally invested many years of their careers into making sure the soon-to-expire Haringey-Grainger development agreement achieves its aims.
 Haringey received Grainger’s latest planning application – HGY/2012/0915 – on 8 May, 2012. Haringey said the planning committee – to the astonishment of many in the meeting – will convene as early as 25 June to determine the application.
 Before the mayhem cut short the meeting, David Schmitz, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Harringay ward, did manage to pose one question for Haringey’s council officers.
Sadly, Councillor Schmitz’s politely posed question went unanswered, but it’s important…and it’s here, for the record: “Can you explain why in the past year no major planning application has been dealt with within thirteen weeks of it being submitted but we are now dealing with this application within six weeks? Just how are the officers and councillors able to do this…and will the planning committee be graced by the presence of the Labour chief whip?”

 More detail on Wards Corner will feature soon on

Photo top: Wards Corner Coalition posters at Seven Sisters tube station. 
Above: Jenny Jones, Green Party candidate who finished third in the 2012 London mayoral election, lends her support to opponents of the Grainger plan for Wards Corner.

Photos: © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2012.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2012

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Wards Corner, Seven Sisters: The battle for Tottenham

Tonight (Weds, 30 May) the latest instalment in the battle for Tottenham kicks off again at Tottenham Town Hall. 
 On one side, there's Grainger, a powerful developer, intent on persuading councillors at the north London borough of Haringey to back their new and latest plan to build new homes and shops at Wards Corner, right on top of Seven Sisters London Underground station.
 Opposing Grainger is the Wards Corner Coalition, an equally determined, multi-cultural group of local residents, business people and market traders, who wish to see Grainger's latest proposals booted out and for their own 'community plan' for the site to be seriously considered.
 The WCC won last year's battle - and will have to put up another big fight again this year. Already, the recently re-elected Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been served with a Town and Country Planning Act notice to say whether Grainger's latest application fits in with his London Plan. Boris only has until the end of June to decide.
 So, one of the first acts of Boris' second spell in office will be to heavily influence what type of vision will be endorsed as Tottenham's likely future.
 Given the high levels of unemployment and poverty in the area - and also last summer's riots - Boris is being urged to give serious thought to Wards Corner, Seven Sisters and Tottenham. The rest of London will be watching Boris and this significant battle with interest.

More on ongoing Wards Corner developments to follow on this blog and in more detail at


Paul Coleman, London, May 2012

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Final part of John Carlos: an alternative Olympic flame visits London

So Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested on the medal winners' podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City after their impressive 200 metres run (above).
 Speaking before a central London audience (below), John Carlos recalled: “I didn’t go up there with an Uzi or bullets across my chest. I didn’t give the finger. 
 "I went up there to let them know I’m a young black man that has concern for all people in society, even you, the biggest perpetrator, I got concern for you too.
 Carlos and Smith, and the now deceased Peter Norman who supported their protest, paid dearly. “They ridiculed me," said Carlos. "They drove my wife, Kim, to suicide. Ridiculed my kids in school and chased my so-called friends away. They stopped me from employment."

Carlos added: “But I regret nothing. The people with regrets are those who in 1968 did nothing. Every Olympian of 1968 is now asked, 'Were you one of those guys?' 
 “From the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I trained all my young life to be an Olympian but I found there’s something more pressing than being an Olympic champion.
 “I gotta little snow on the roof now…but the fire’s still burnin’ inside. I still have the desire to make the change. There’s an old New York phrase, ‘Each one, teach one.’ What you learn, you gotta communicate to someone else. 
"Our message today is we love sport. But the Olympics has been perverted by the International Olympic Committee."

Postscript 2012: The world remains in turmoil just as it did in 1968. Then, as now, the media is owned and controlled by rich and powerful people and consumed, some say, by largely deferential audiences and readerships. There's little doubt any athlete would be condemned and vilified like Carlos and Smith if they dared to protest at the London 2012 Games in a similar way. 
 Perhaps the chief global difference between Mexico City 1968 and London 2012 is that social media - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, et al - would flash such a moment around the planet to a far more sympathetic audience.
 But here's one final thought; why would anyone protest at London 2012? 

John Carlos was speaking at Bookmarks, an independent bookshop at 1 Bloomsbury Street, central London, on Saturday, 19 May. The John Carlos Story, by John Carlos with Dave Zirin, was published by Haymarket, Chicago, 2011.
Paul Coleman, London, May 2012

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Transforming King's Cross station: Investing in infrastructure, jobs and people

Inside the splendour of the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington a high-powered cluster of architects, engineers, conservationists and politicians listened to Ian Fry speaking at last night's launch (Monday, 21 May) of the book, Transforming King's Cross.
 The last time I met Ian Fry was on the roof of King's Cross station. He's Network Rail's project director for the station's stunning and ongoing transformation. The photos below show Fry on site in May 2010 and how the station's Western Concourse then looked.

"If you look at the area around the station, you'll see how the area's is changing and how many new jobs are being created," said Fry last night.
 Nobody felt inclined to argue with the idea that investment in infrastructure creates jobs, growth and benefits the lives of many people. The only folks who seem to reject this notion are politicians in 10 Downing Street and in Parliament.
 Before catching my train home last night I feasted my eyes yet again on the biggest transformation of Lewis Cubitt’s station since it was first built in 1852.
 The £550m transformation includes careful restoration of the Victorian station’s Eastern and Western range buildings and the Main Train Shed. But the centrepiece is the Western Concourse’s 20-metre high roof, a tubular steel grid, glazed with 1,600 panels, radiating spectacularly from a tapered funnel.
 The 150-m long and 7,500 sqm Western Concourse looks like a futuristic space ship docking with the Grade I-listed Western Range and the curving Grade II-listed, refurbished Great Northern Hotel.
 Londoners and the hundreds of people of who've worked on this project can rightly take pride in this place.

King's Cross Station
Project delivery: Network Rail
Architects: John McAslan + Partners
Engineering: Arup
Transforming King's Cross (above) is published by Merrell.
King's Cross: Regenerating a London Landmark, an exhibition on the station's refurbishment, is at the V&A until October 2012.

For my more detailed look at the station's transformation: Railway Terminal World

Photos: Paul Coleman, London Intelligence No repro without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2012


Monday, 21 May 2012

Part II: John Carlos, an alternative Olympic flame visits London

So, here's the second post on John Carlos' visit to London. 

The USA's Tommie Smith won the 1968 Mexico City Olympic gold medal winning the 200 metres final in 19.87 seconds, a new world record time unsurpassed for almost 20 years.
  Australian Peter Norman and America's John Carlos each ran 20 seconds flat but Norman just pipped Carlos to the silver.
  But what led John Carlos to his podium protest (below)? Speaking to a London audience (above) Harlem born and raised Carlos cites his childhood and adolescent experiences. Born in 1945, a native son of the ‘Big Apple’, (New York City, not the computer firm), Carlos faced the perils that threatened most young Black American men trying to survive in 1960s urban America.
Young Black boys passed from grade to high school without being able to read. “When I was freshman at High School they wrote ‘John Carlos’ on the board. I couldn’t even read my name. How is that possible in the greatest nation in the world?”
  Carlos said he lived in a neighbourhood where young Black men were told the only job was to “clean up the dog shit” or “be the uniformed bellhop” on the hotel door. Black men educated to degree level who tried to better themselves found their qualifications counted less than the colour of their skin. Trying to tide themselves over with low-paid jobs, they faced the “you’re over-qualified” line.
  Carlos saw many black men crumple under this drip-drip discrimination. He saw them succumb to drink and drugs, both widely available on Black neighbourhood street corners.
  Pregnant women with drugs running their bodies were prescribed yet more drugs. Babies were born addicts, literally.
  On top of ‘bang goes the neighbourhood’, Carlos’ says his political fire was inflamed further by the lynching of African Americans and Civil Rights organisers in the deep south, the deaths of African American soldiers in Vietnam War and – especially – by the assassinations of Civil Rights movement leader Martin Luther King and the Black radical Malcolm X.
  These experiences and events influenced John Carlos’ understanding of racial injustice and what he needed to do with his life. The 1968 Olympics presented a chance and a challenge.
  Carlos, speaking before his London audience, said: “Were we supposed to sit back, grin, and be happy that we could go to the Olympics Games and win a gold medal?...No.”

One more post to follow on John Carlos...

Photo of John Carlos in London: © Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2012. 
No repro without permission.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2012

Sunday, 20 May 2012

John Carlos: an alternative Olympic Flame arrives in London

Many remember the moment. Grainy black and white TV images from the Mexico City Olympics of 1968. US athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith stand on the medal winners' podium, heads bowed and raise their black-gloved fists in a defiant Black Power salute. 
 The stadium fell quiet. "You could've heard a frog piss on cotton," recalls Carlos. The boos followed. Then lifelong abuse and vilification for gold medallist Smith, bronze-winner Carlos and Peter Norman, the Australian silver medallist who wore a button supporting the protest. 
 This Olympic moment captured the wider momentum of 1968; the tumult year of Martin Luther King's assassination, the Vietnam War, the Prague Spring, revolutionary turmoil in France, apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, and Middle East conflict.
 John Carlos (below), speaking 44 years later to an audience packed into a Bloomsbury Street bookshop in central London yesterday evening (Saturday, 19 May), recalled not just 'the moment' but also the movement behind it - the Olympic Project for Human Rights, a movement representing a "counter-history" of the Olympics.
Before the 1968 Games, Carlos, Smith and the OPHR had called upon the International Olympic Committee to ban apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia from the Mexico City Olympiad. They also demanded IOC head Avery Brundage step down due to his support for these regimes and for delivering the 1936 Games to Hitler's Berlin.
 Carlos and Smith had decided if they won medals they'd wear black gloves as a symbol of their commitment to African-American struggles for civil rights and equality. They agreed not to wear shoes on the podium as a symbol of solidarity with many poverty-stricken African-American children in America's deep south who walked to school with no footwear.
 Carlos decided he'd breach strict Olympic protocol by wearing his team USA jacket wide open, a more subtle sign of solidarity with struggling black and white blue-collar working people in Harlem, his home New York neighbourhood. He would wear beads around his neck to symbolise the history of lynchings in America.
 Carlos recalls how he and Smith planned their protest but also how the whole enterprise hinged upon the not-so-small matter of them actually winning the 200 metres Olympic final.

Click on the link below to see how they fared...

To be continued...

Paul Coleman, London, May 2012

Saturday, 19 May 2012

A flame from Athens to London

The flame lit in Athens will burn in London. That's the fear; that the Eurozone fires creating economic and social chaos in Greece will lick across Europe and bring banking woes to Britain's 'double dip' recession economy.  
'Conflagration' and 'contagion' are the chief metaphors at play. Often with contagious diseases, worry focuses solely on who will catch the disease next. The originally infected poor sod is rarely considered - and only then as a source of blame and fear. So what happens when an average-sized Greek town runs out of money - and should we care?
Lavrio's mayor Nikolas Antoniou has watched aghast at millions of Euros being withdrawn in panic from banks. Antoniou is wondering how long he can pay the salaries of his 360 council staff. Shops in Lavrio are letting long-serving staff go as sales have dropped 30%. Bankruptcy looms after redundancy. 
More and more younger people are leaving, not just the town but the country. Hope seems to evaporate very quickly in such circumstances.
Many Londoners used to holiday in Greece, Athens, Crete, the islands and visit towns like Lavrio. Crassly, now on UK TV news shows, you'll hear windbag commentators saying the only significant consequence of Greece abandoning the Euro and returning to a much-devalued Drachma will be 'cheaper Greek holidays for Brits'. 
So, Londoners can look forward to holidaying for a bit of sunshine in a country on its knees. We can bask our backsides in Greece, a fledgling democracy not long out of dictatorship, now descending into chaos, internecine conflict and possibly on the verge of a resurgent fascism. it'll be Clacton-on-Sea for me again.
And as I head off to the Essex coast, I'll wonder what would happen in London, in say, Hampstead, Brixton, Mayfair and Canning Town, if the schools closed, rubbish wasn't collected and working people's salaries went unpaid.  Athens and London are closer than most politicians and commentators would have us believe.
Of course, I could always forget the whole thing, dim my brain and immerse myself in celebrating the Queen's Jubilee. 
Let's not forget too the London 2012 Olympics.  But the flaming Olympic torch and the Olympics Games themselves remind us that many good things originated in Greece, a good country with good people that we should help and not fear.

Paul Coleman, London, May 2012.

Friday, 18 May 2012

North London night hike for hospitals hits my street

Marcia, my friend, and hundreds of other people, complete with twinkling pink bunny ears, are hiking 15km in drizzling rain tonight - right now -  to raise funds for local north London hospitals. Marcia and her gang just had enough time to pose for this quick photo on my street...only ten miles to go! 
It's brilliant, well done, Marcia, and well done guys and gals. 
My one minor never see banks, bankers, arms manufacturers and arms dealers, striding along to raise cash in this way...

Paul Coleman, London, May 2012