CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Town Hall isn’t cut out to be a property developer

17 October, 2019

An illustration of how the 22-storey tower in Somers Town could look

THE sale of the site in Somers Town for a skyscraper may seem like a ­turning point in the council’s programme which involves the use of Camden-owned land to private developers by jointly build housing units – most for private sale, a smaller number for “social rent”.

Well intentioned, Labour hoped to fund some kind of a housing programme having been starved by austerity.

But what, we suspect, is never seriously considered by Labour is something so funda­mental to local government.

The question is: Who does the land belong to?

It belongs to the people of Camden whose tax and rates acquired it over the years.

It is because it is owned by the people of Camden that Labour is under a legal and moral obligation to consult them before putting their land up for use in this way.

Consultations are difficult to carry out in the best of circumstances, and all indications are that Camden, along with government and local authorities, fail dismally, often producing half-baked results.

Somers Town residents feel cheated by the consultation over the plan to build a skyscraper in Brill Place.

Perhaps coincidentally, the council’s Community Investment Programme (CIP) is now being questioned – and last week a panel was set up to assess the pros and cons.

And not before time.

Neither council officials nor councillors are cut out to be property developers. Speculation, hard bargaining, gaming the market, these are not qualities we associate with those who work at the Town Hall.

Nor wish them to acquire.

Arguments have flown about in the past few years that land has been undersold by the council.

But things are not going well elsewhere. What an extraordinary state of affairs that the cabinet have not been meeting regularly in the past six months. Why? Is it because councillors are so arrogant that they think they have nothing to discuss? Or are they afraid to examine the problems that may be piling up?

Another sign of dither and delay is the scandal arising out of the failure of the children’s committee to implement a decision taken more than six months ago when members decided to set up a panel to investigate the high number of school exclusions.

Has the panel been set up?

No. Has the committee met to discuss why? No. We are open to correction but it seems either lethargy or indifference has put paid to the decision to set up a panel. And this at a time when knife crime is rising to unprecedented levels.

It is accepted that a causal factor in knife crime and criminal behaviour in children and young teenagers can be traced back to school exclusions.

Whereas the question mark that hangs over CIP reflects genuine differences of opinion, kicking the panel on school exclusions into the long grass is a scandal by any standards.

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