‘The scale of the challenge is massive’: Haringey council leader Joseph Ejiofor on the climate crisis, Liveable Crouch End and building trust
PUBLISHED: 07:51 12 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:49 13 March 2020
It’s been a busy few weeks for Cllr Joseph Ejiofor.
A budget aimed at 'community wealth-building' and fighting poverty was passed, the council's flagship Fairness Commission reported back on inequality in the borough and a draft climate action plan came before the town hall's cabinet this week.
Cllr Ejiofor (Lab, Bruce Grove) sat down with the Ham&High to reflect on his two years in the job so far.
'I love this job. I think I am very fortunate to do it,' he said. 'Of our five key manifesto pledges, we have substantially delivered three so far. It's important that politicians are seen to have kept their word.'
Building council homes, bringing in a substantial council tax reduction scheme and paying careworkers the living wage are achievements the council leader has trumpeted - but the Fairness Commission's report also drew attention to 'poor service experience' for some members of the Haringey public.
Cllr Ejiofor said working with residents was vital - whether on regeneration, the climate crisis or youth services. He said: 'It's been a learning and engagement exercise, really. It's very, very important that we as a council are able to understand the concerns and issues raised by residents. With all the things we do, we need to build trust.'
One issue that often frustrates local people is change, the councillor said.
'A lot of the time, when people are worried, they are worried about change. And about whether we as a council respect them as communities. The important thing for residents is they can have confidence that whatever changes are made, they will be there and they will be respected and part of the discussion and the future.'
In the east of the borough, regeneration plans have continued to draw the ire of campaigners, while in autumn 2019 the Liveable Crouch End trial traffic scheme divided the community. Cllr Ejiofor set this in the context of the climate crisis.
He said: 'There are always conflicts between competing agendas. As as a council it's our job to look as where these conflicts exist and where we can resolve them. We can't lose sight of the primary objective. If we carry on the way we are, pumping carbon in the environment in the volumes we are doing at the moment, not just in Haringey, not just England or in the western world but across the planet. There won't be a planet.'
He added: 'Everyone's going to have to stop doing something they love in order for their children to have somewhere to live.'
The action plan sets the town hall a 2027 target for being itself carbon neutral, and argues 2041 is, at this stage, its target for making the borough carbon neutral.
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Although the plan was applauded by Haringey Extinction Rebellion (XR) groups, at a demo outside Haringey Civic Centre, XR members called for the town hall to use citizen's assemblies to 'accelerate behaviour change'.
The council leader did not mince his words on the topic.
'The scale of the challenge is massive,' he said.
Cllr Ejifor continued: 'Every government at every level has got to work with residents and stakeholders to do its bit. I know we get a lot of pushback from people. I understand that, but when people are used to doing things which make a massive impact on the planet, they just have to get out of the habit.'
And what about Liveable Crouch End itself?
'We need to plan with the data and then come back for another consultation. Quite frankly, I don't think we are in a situation where we have a solution yet,' Cllr Ejiofor said. 'It is incumbent on us to be doing it in partnership with residents.'
The council chief is also keen to work to support our high streets. He said Crouch End's shop vacancy rate - around 10 per cent - was 'obviously an issue of concern', and added: 'We are grouping them into high street types and developing a strategy for each type, so we can better understand their requirements.'
With a long council housing waiting list, housing has always been at the top of the town hall's priority list. When Cllr Ejiofor became leader of Haringey, one of the first things he did was to dismantle the hugely unpopular Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). Instead, the council is seeking to build homes itself.
The leader said: 'Haringey Council built 32 homes in 32 years. When we build our 33rd we are already doing better than previous generations. We were serious about our target of 1,000 new social homes. By the end of May, we will have started 350 of them. That's a substantial way towards delivering on that objective.'
He added that by working with social landlords - including on a development in Coppetts Road, Fortis Green, the town hall was also 'doing all we can to ensure all different kinds of property are available.'
Cllr Ejiofor also told the Broadway plans were in the offing to deal with 'crumbling' school buildings, saying: 'We have to prioritise. I anticipate we will see the problems with the sixth form block at Fortismere as one of our highest priorities.'
As long as he retains the confidence of his Labour group - which will put his leadership to a vote this spring - there are two years left for Cllr Ejiofor's administration.
He said the biggest challenge will be mitigating the 'ludicrous' government fair funding review. He said: 'It's effectively the unfair funding of Labour London local authorities and the giving of more money to the Tory shires. 'It should be the areas of greatest deprivation where the money goes.'