Outgoing Haringey Council leader Claire Kober: 'Only one regret' over controversial £2bn HDV housing plan
PUBLISHED: 08:17 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:22 09 February 2018
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Outgoing Haringey Council leader Claire Kober has said she has few regrets over the controversial £2billion housing plans which sparked protest across the borough.
Cllr Kober, who described a move against the plans by national party bosses within the National Executive Council (NEC) as the final straw in her decision to quit in May, said her only regret was a 13 month “campaign of misinformation” led by Labour activist group Momentum.
“My only regret is that we have been unable to have an honest, adult, straight-forward conversation about the nature of the housing challenge in this borough, and the solutions, in a spirit of open-mindedness, tolerance and respect,” Cllr Kober said.
She claimed the scheme – to transfer council homes and land to a joint venture with developer Lendlease – only became controversial when Momentum activists launched a campaign to stop it. When the plan, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), was introduced neither Labour members nor Liberal Democrat opposition councillors opposed it, she said.
Speaking in her Wood Green office, Kober appeared unphased by claims the HDV is now dead in the water after the council decided to leave its future to the next administration following local elections in May when Labour candidates opposed to the scheme look set to form a majority.
The council estimates finding a partner and setting up the HDV has cost more than £2m.
Asked if she felt bitter about its apparent collapse, she replied: “I don’t. I feel really regretful for families on the housing waiting list. If this does not go ahead, they will lose out.”
Describing the NEC’s decision to mediate between pro and anti-HDV Labour councillors, at war over the HDV, Kober said it was disrespectful of both her and a “democratically agreed decision” taken by Haringey Labour.
But her membership of the party will continue.
“I feel absolutely disillusioned about the way I’ve been treated but my response to that is you stand your ground and fight. You don’t retreat,” she said.
But according to Kober, at the helm for ten years, the future of regeneration in Haringey remains secure.
“It’s almost impossible to secure social and economic regeneration in the absence of physical regeneration,” she said.
Asked if she felt relieved upon quitting, the Seven Sisters ward councillor agreed, adding it had given her an opportunity to talk about an emerging political culture marred by a culture of sexism.
“Social media is poisonous, but the more problematic stuff happens in the physical space,” she explained before going on to describe one threat to drag her “kicking and screaming” to a meeting she couldn’t attend because of a child care issue.
“I don’t think men would get that. I’ve been accused of being an ethnic cleanser. That was a phrase coined to describe Milosevic,” she said.
Fellow councillors in support of the HDV had also been threatened and intimidated, she added.
Kober appeared to have little doubt as to whether or not there was a Momentum takeover of the council underway.
“Momentum has said this will be a Momentum council. Cllr Noah Tucker said it would be a Momentum council. I don’t think this is just [an idea] coming from the right wing press,” she said.
She dismissed as smears rumours she broke party rules by putting together “dossiers” on Momentum local election candidates ahead of selection.
“[Raising concerns about prospective candidates] is a transparent part of the process. It’s entirely in line with the rules. It’s another attempt to smear me,” she said.
In response to criticism her leadership style is autocratic, she said she always acted in line with group decision-making.
“To me an autocrat would be someone who ignores the decisions taken by their political group. There hasn’t been a single occasion where I have done anything that isn’t with the express agreement of the group,” she said.
Asked about councillor Gideon Bull, punished for speaking out against cuts to vulnerable adult services, Kober said: “That was a whole group decision. That contributes towards the sexist culture. It was a group decision, a recommendation from the whip, and I’m not the whip. It was a decision voted on by the entire Labour Group. Why is that decision attributed to me?”
On whether or not she would be happy to see Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as the next prime minister she said: “I’d hope that Labour would win the next general election. So I guess so. I’d be happy with a Labour government. Delighted, ecstatic. We haven’t won an election since 2005, that’s eight years already. More than anything I want a Labour government.”
But she refused to be drawn on who she’d like to take on her role. As to her next move, she quashed rumours she was being lined up to join Sadiq Khan as deputy mayor for housing only stating her next role is unlikely to be in politics.
In her 10 years at the helm Kober has polarised opinion with the sale of Grade II*-listed Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End being a recent upset.
On the sale, Kober said: “It’s always a slight disappointment you can’t light on a solution everyone is happy with. But I feel really positive the right decision has been made.”
She dismissed a suggestion the sale and permission to transform the landmark could be reversed by the next administraion saying it was “absolutely a done deal” with legal agreements signed.
She batted away criticism the sale to Far East Consortium went against her own approach to redevelopment schemes involving private companies, whereby the council maintains a stake.
“It’s horses for courses. Joint ventures are really appropriate in some circumstances. Although we said a decision on the HDV is a decision for the next administration, personally I remain as convinced of it as a solution as I’ve always been. More convinced. The solution for Hornsey Town Hall is a more traditional approach used all around London for cultural assets,” she said. “An approach depends what you’re seeking to get out of something.”
Reflecting on how the borough has changed during her time in office, Kober said it had become a more confident place.
“We’ve landed opportunities that demonstrate that we are the future of London. There’s tonnes to be proud of,” she said.
Asked if she had seen the writing on the wall with her leadership likely to be brought to an end under a new administration, she commented: “I’d couch it in different terms. I’m realistic about things. The bigger issue to me is we’re moving into an age where the politics of ideology is trumping the politics of pragmatism and I’m very pragmatic.
“I’m not the right kind of leader to be leading in a more ideological age,” she said.