Back our high streets and cultural centres - and drop this vanity project
Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison, opposition leader, Haringey Council
- Credit: Ken Mears
February is always a busy time at the council, with the Labour administration putting forward its budget for the coming year.
This has extra significance in 2021 as the country attempts to get back on its feet following the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and begins to focus on economic recovery.
In Haringey in particular, the impact of repeated lockdowns has had a devastating effect. Our borough has the fastest unemployment growth rate in the country (7.7 per cent from December 2019 to December 2020), and now has the second-highest claimant-count in Britain. Projections are that things will only get worse over the coming year, making investment in jobs and our communities even more important than usual.
As such, the Liberal Democrats will not be supporting Labour’s plans to spend money building new council offices on top of the Civic Centre in Wood Green, and will instead submit a budget amendment for a "community and cultural transformation fund".
This fund would allocate over £12 million towards helping Haringey’s town and district centres recover, and ensure that they are sustainable in a post-pandemic world. It would begin to introduce a better, more vibrant mix of uses to our high streets - not only shops, but places to eat and drink, leisure, start-up hubs, childcare services, council services and more - as well as supporting our borough’s cultural offerings.
With so much uncertainty around how people will work in the future - following the shift to home-working due to the pandemic - now is simply not the time to be spending millions on new council offices that may become redundant before they are even completed. Given the desperate need for a post-coronavirus recovery, this would be a reckless use of public funds at such a vital moment. We believe it is imperative that the proposed £12 million for expanding the Civic Centre should be spent on the community, not on council offices.
High streets across Haringey were under strain even before Covid-19 arrived at our shores, and they are now more in need of support than ever before. The only responsible course of action is to abandon the Civic Centre vanity project, and prioritise our struggling town centres. I urge all my colleagues on the council to back the Liberal Democrat amendment to move these funds into supporting the community directly, and work with our residents to create a Haringey fit for the future.
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- Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison (Lib Dem) is leader of the opposition on Haringey Council.