Opinion: Build homes not warehouse schemes

David Winskill wants proper homes built, not rabbit hutches.

David Winskill wants proper homes built, not rabbit hutches. - Credit: Archant

A couple of weeks ago there was a piece in the Guardian’s financial pages headlined “The billionaire and the tiny flats: a new low for rabbit hutch Britain?”

The subject of the story was Alexandra House (a stone's throw from Wood Green tube station) which currently houses Haringey Council's Finance Service and other departments.

An '80s red brick building of 11 storeys, a plan has been submitted to Haringey to convert it into what are optimistically called "flats".

The developer is using the coalition government's permitted development rights of 2013 that allow conversion from office to residential without having to go through the faff of getting full planning permission.

However, Ability Developments do have to get "prior approval" from Haringey (who, I must stress, are not involved in this scheme).

An architect called Colin Kerr has put his ruler to the published plans and concludes that some of the units would be less than 13' by 13'.

Most readers of the Ham & High will probably have only one room in their house smaller than this. The newspaper you are reading, opened out, has an area of about 2.3 sq ft. These particular hutches will offer living space equivalent to about seven by 10 of these double pages.

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In Scotland the minimum single occupancy prison cell area is about half of what is proposed here. However, taking into account furniture, a bed, a table, storage, cooking and washing facilities then Barlinnie starts to look palatial.

So desperate is the London housing market that this accommodation will be snapped up.

Thirty years of blind faith in the market to provide and with virtually no public investment in affordable housing has led to us warehousing people in schemes like this and sending round wheelbarrows full of housing benefit to pay for the privilege of keeping our fellow citizens off the streets.

In November last year, one in 29 people in Haringey was homeless: 9,173 were in temporary accommodation.

The billionaire developer, a good north London lad by the sound of it, owns a 40 meter luxury yacht: I'll let you, esteemed reader, work out how many of his mooted flats would fit on his poop deck.

In other news, Knightsbridge (in contrast to other town centres in London) is booming and has a brand new safety deposit vault. With commendable frankness, the managing director of the fledgling business says "We won't deal with millionaires. We will be dealing only with billionaires."

And, in yet more news, we learn that the Equality Trust has calculated that the wealth of the UK's top six billionaires is "roughly equal to the assets of 13.2 million Britons."

I hope that when rosetted party workers came-a-calling, clipboard on forearm, you asked about the Climate Emergency and Brexit. But also how, in what was once the most civilised and compassionate country in the world, we have conspired to create and celebrate such deep inequalities and what the parties will be doing to tackle them.