The Independent London Newspaper
27th April 2017

NEW JOURNAL COMMENT: Labour’s dilemma over striking gold through selling land

    Campaigners who are opposing the Somers Town skyscraper

    Campaigners who are opposing the Somers Town skyscraper

    Published: 12 January, 2017

    WHAT has the council plan to build a 25-storey skyscraper in Somers Town got in common with the proposed changes to the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre in Holborn?

    Both schemes plan to use every centimetre of available public space to develop affordable and private housing as well as in the Somers Town case use raised cash to effectively rebuild the Edith Neville primary school.

    And in each case tensions are rising between the public and Labour as to whether the right path is being taken.

    In Somers Town local residents protest at the loss of open space, the prospect of such a towering edifice in their midst – it will certainly be one of the tallest buildings – and, in addition, argue that such global companies as Google, based in King’s Cross, a few hundred yards away, should help pay for developments in their area. 

    An unprecedented rearguard defence of the Local Studies centre is being pursued by academics and historians. 

    In the current edition of the Camden History Society’s newsletter, criticism is levelled against the new plans as being “seriously lacking in detail”.  

    This is followed by a long, reasoned statement of several thousand words by John Richardson, chairman of the society, a former Labour councillor and eminently respected as a historian, who stresses that the archives are of “great metropolitan importance”.

    The question of the day is: What else can Labour do?

    There is no doubt their funding from Whitehall has been savagely cut, and the council, like most authorities, is doing its best – by its own reasoning – to cope with what is the biggest crisis facing municipal bodies for nearly a century.

    The high land value in Camden is a temptation the council cannot resist. And this is understandable. 

    The result is a rush to strike gold by selling land for redevelopment.

    But the council – like most public institutions – is ill-equipped to become, in effect, a property developer. 

    Its busy, competent Property Services, staffed by knowledgable former estate agents, has long been wound up. 

    Today, land can be undersold, development schemes patchily stitched together.

    Councillors should do what they are best at – politically working out ways to oppose the draconian government cuts. 

    The Labour councils in London would do better if they united to create a common manifesto against attempts to kill them off.