High Court judge urged to quash Haringey Council’s £2bn HDV redevelopment plan
- Credit: Archant
A high court judge has been urged to quash the decision by Haringey Council’s cabinet to pursue a £2billion regeneration plan.
On Thursday Mr Justice Duncan Ouseley was called on to declare Haringey’s decision to pour council owned land and buildings into firm the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) as illegal by barrister David Wolfe QC.
He said: “We invite the court to declare [Haringey’s] decision as unlawful and declare that in deciding to proceed in this way was a matter for the full council.”
Council leader Cllr Claire Kober and cabinet members formally kickstarted the plan at a meeting in July.
The plan is for Haringey to transfer selected property into the HDV – split 50/50 with developer Lendlease – under a scheme it says will generate the homes and jobs people want, but which critics claim will force residents out of the borough as estates get demolished.
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At the start of the two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, Mr Wolfe outlined four grounds for ruling the HDV unlawful on behalf of the claimant, Gordon Peters, a retired former director of social services.
The first focused on whether it was lawful for Haringey to set up the HDV as a limited liability partnership or LLP – which benefits from tax breaks – rather than a company.
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Mr Wolfe argued by law the council can only operate commercially if it sets up a company, putting the HDV on a level playing field with private sector businesses. But Haringey’s barrister, Ranjit Bhose QC, argued the “primary” aim was not to profit from the HDV but to generate jobs and better homes. Mr Bhose argued financial gains would be “incidental”.
But Mr Wolfe countered: “The focus will be to drive growth. The focus is income maximisation, not wider social purposes.”
The second objection to the HDV concerned a lack of consultation.
Mr Bhose claimed by law there was no duty to seek residents’ views before the July decision and “nothing more could have arisen” after a consultation by the council’s watchdog overview and scrutiny committee (OSC).
He added “very full” consultations would take place before estates come up for redevelopment under the HDV.
But Mr Wolfe described this as a “Hobson’s choice” for residents between taking the HDV as set up or leaving their estates as they are.
The third grounds stated the council failed to assess the HDV’s impact on vulnerable people.
Haringey argued it complied with a legal duty to do so by considering the elderly, disabled and minorities in an equalities impact assessment mulled over by Cllr Claire Kober and other chiefs in November 2015.
A February 2017 OSC report on how the HDV would be managed, highlighting “very significant risks” and a “fundamental democratic deficit”, was dismissed by cabinet.
Mr Bhose argued: “We struggle to understand which people sharing protected characteristics may be disadvantaged by the structure of the HDV.
“Existing residents and tenants have been kept informed about the HDV. There were no democratic deficiencies. There are no equality issues in this case.”
But Mr Wolfe read passages from Haringey’s own HDV documents – including one saying the HDV business plan prioritised a single move for tenants rather than a right of return to redeveloped homes – to argue his point there would be no protection for people in social housing.
Grounds four centred on whether or not the decision was one all Haringey councillors should have taken and not a “select few” cabinet members.
Mr Wolfe argued the decision to set up the HDV amounted to a plan to control the council’s borrowing, investment and spending so therefore a matter for full council.
Mr Bhose countered that cabinet made the July decision within limits imposed by councillors who agreed Haringey’s budget and financial plan in February.
The review result is not expected for some weeks.