Watchdog: Ex-council leader's conduct over housing development was 'flawed'

Former Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor and Woodside Avenue

Former Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor (inset) made a 'flawed' decision to halt a controversial demolition scheme in Woodside Avenue, the Local Government Ombudsman has ruled - Credit: Polly Hancock / Sam Volpe

The former leader of Haringey Council blocked a contentious housing demolition scheme “without proper scrutiny”, a watchdog has found.

A report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) found that Cllr Joseph Ejiofor took a "flawed" unilateral decision to cancel the proposed demolition of a row of houses in Woodside Avenue, Muswell Hill, opposite the former Cranwood care home.

The LGO has told the council that it should now put the demolition of the homes back on the table as part of continuing plans to redevelop the area.

Cranwood Nursing Home

Haringey Council planned to demolish the former Cranwood care home and a nearby row of houses in Woodside Avenue, to make way for a new housing scheme - Credit: Polly Hancock

Investigation

An LGO investigation was launched when the owner of one of the homes complained that the council’s flip-flopping had caused his family years of stress.

The council had told the man – referred to in the report as Mr X – in 2014 that his house was at risk.

Secret council papers seen by the Ham&High show that in September 2018, the Cabinet voted to spend up to £2.25m buying his home.

In summer 2019, another Woodside Avenue home was purchased by the council for £2.15m - which Mr X said he was not told about.

106 Woodside Avenue. Picture: Polly Hancock

Number 106 Woodside Avenue was sold in 2019 for more than £2m - but a neighbour said they were neither told nor offered anywhere near the same amount - Credit: Polly Hancock

In October 2019, Mr X met council officers to discuss the sale of his own home. Discussions continued into 2020.

But in March 2020, the LGO said Cllr Ejiofor met with council tenants in some of the other homes and “decided not to proceed”.

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“The council had already committed a substantial amount of public money in buying the other property, which only had that value to the council as part of the larger scheme,” the LGO wrote.

“This decision meant that expenditure had been for nothing.”

Developer

Interviewed by the LGO, Cllr Ejiofor claimed that by that time, it was not possible to buy Mr X’s home because Mr X had granted a developer the option on his home.

But secret council papers seen by the Ham&High show that fact was already known in September 2018.

“Members should note that a developer appears to have taken out an option on [the property],” Cabinet papers said.

Councillors accordingly allocated £2.25m to buy the home, which was valued at around £850,000.

102-18 Woodside Avenue. Picture: Polly Hancock

This row of terraced houses in Woodside Avenue, Muswell Hill, faced demolition under the council's initial proposals - Credit: Polly Hancock

The council had also missed a chance to buy Mr X’s home for far less.

In April 2018, Mr X emailed the council to inform officers that he had been approached by a developer, but he would rather deal directly with the council.

But by August, the council had not replied, so he signed the option agreement.

Two days later, the council finally responded to Mr X, saying it still wanted to buy his home.

Mr X said he was never told the council had allocated more than £2m for his home, nor offered anything close to that amount.

Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor was among those who signed the letter. Picture: Polly Hancock

Former Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor disputed the ombudsman's findings and stood by his decision - Credit: Polly Hancock

Reaction

Approached by the Ham&High, Cllr Ejiofor disputed the LGO’s findings, saying he was “surprised” by the report and the decision to name him.

“Ultimately, councillors do not take decisions in a vacuum and always take on board wider considerations and advice,” he said.

“Mr X promised to sell his house to a developer who then wanted to sell it on to the council. The issue was whether to buy Mr X’s house for three times its value and he has complained to the ombudsman because the council decided not to do so.”

He added that the decision to stop the demolition was “a result of the council listening to residents”.

New council leader Peray Ahmet said she was “determined to understand fully what happened and consider all necessary actions”.

“On behalf of Haringey Council, I would like to apologise to Mr X and our council tenants for the uncertainty and stress they have experienced,” she said.

“I believe in the importance of open, transparent and accountable processes and acknowledge that the council may not have met its own high standards in this case.”

Cllr Ahmet said a review had been ordered into property acquisition processes.

Labour council leader Peray Ahmet said the £54m office revamp was an example of 'prudent financial

Haringey Council leader Peray Ahmet apologised to the complainant and said she had ordered a view of property acquisition procedures - Credit: Polly Hancock

Mr X

The resident known as Mr X has responded to the LGO report, telling the Ham&High: “For six years, Haringey Council by turns have put inordinate pressure on us to sell our family home to them for sums that would immediately price us and our children out of the area.

“In the interim, they secretly bought the neighbouring house from a private landlady for the eye-watering sum of £2.15m.

“Then, in the middle of the first lockdown in 2020, the council suddenly told us, without a word of apology or explanation, that they no longer wished to buy our house.

"We hope Haringey Council will use this as an opportunity to review their plans properly, as the LGO expects, and develop the Cranwood site to the highest possible standard.”

The LGO has told Haringey Council to apologise to Mr X and pay £1,000 compensation “for the stress and uncertainty”.

For more, read:

Haringey Council U-turns on demolishing Muswell Hill homes - after buying ex-council house for £2.15m