We had our first meeting in a new venue in Hornsey on September 8. It turns out to be an excellent place to meet, eat and socialize and we will hold our October, November and December meetings there too. Our next meeting, October 6, is one that we are encouraging visitors to make a special point of attending, now that the holiday season is over. We will be showing a film on cohousing experience in other countries for a discussion about its relevance to our own cohousing project.
Getting the benefits of cohousing
We have a valuable window of opportunity in the coming months before planning permission is granted to expand our numbers and develop the group more effectively. Early members will benefit from Hanover’s 10% discount or 15% retained equity offer. After a certain point, this will not be available.
Becoming a regular participant in the group meetings is not just a matter of ticking boxes – the whole point of cohousing is that everyone takes part in shaping the group’s way of life, agreeing policies and making important decisions that will have a bearing on the community experience for everyone. If we are all seeking the same thing – a friendly, neighbourly environment on a lovely site – putting October 6, November 17 and December 15 into your diaries is a must.
The summer has been quiet on the St Luke’s front. We can now report that a further meeting between Hanover and the Council has taken place since planning permission was refused. This was positive and amicable and both sides are revisiting the proposals. Hanover is potentially looking at a revised planning application in the late Autumn. This will be progressed by an acting chief executive, Rona Nicholson, as Bruce Moore, Hanover CEO, left the organisation as scheduled in early September. As far as we know, Bruce’s successor, Dame Clare Tickell, (for her twitter, see @ClareTickell) will take up post by the end of the year. According to the Hanover website, she was voted ‘most admired chief executive’ in 2009 by Third Sector magazine.
Bruce promoted the concept of senior cohousing in Hanover and we hope Clare will be equally enthusiastic. At its July meeting, Hanover’s Board expressed its formal support for continuing the Cohousing Woodside development, among other cohousing schemes.
Last night’s presentation by Bruce Moore, CEO of Hanover, seemed to us in the gallery an eloquent and convincing case for meeting LB Haringey’s policy requirements for general needs social housing. The arguments were not that easy to follow, but the core of the Hanover case was that 51 older tenants of the borough’s existing stock would be offered incentives to move out of under-occupied social housing, freeing this up for the families the Council wishes to house – and therefore housing more people. Not only would older tenants be offered very attractive alternative housing in a desirable area but Hanover would add its own cash incentives per bedroom to the cash offered by the Council. This was not an argument most of the planning committee members wished to accept.
The borough has large numbers of families in dire need of rental accommodation. The problem for Hanover – and therefore for Cohousing Woodside – is that the spread of general needs housing is uneven through the borough and councillors wish to redress this by locating it specifically on the St Luke’s site. That Hanover, as a charity constitutionally restricted to housing provision for older people, cannot provide for families, was an argument that fell on deaf ears. The housing association has upped its numbers of social rentals, all to be provided at no cost to the public purse and effectively subsidising the borough’s housing stock in the absence of grant. However, this is for people over 55. Moore quoted to the Committee its own policy priorities relating to older people, but these did not seem to be rated as important by the councillors. When challenged by a councillor to bring a more family-oriented housing association to the St Luke’s site to deliver the general needs housing, Bruce Moore stated that this could be possible, but the result would be a much smaller total number of homes provided, as Hanover’s investment would and could not be on the table.
A clear majority of committee members decided to reject the application on the grounds that it failed to meet the Council’s policy requirements for general needs housing – ie. family housing, not housing for older people. Hanover’s position was that the Council’s requirements were contingent on ‘viability’. In other words, with an objective assessment of how the finances stack up, a calculation of how much social rental accommodation could be provided. Opinions on ‘viability’ at the July planning sub-committee remained poles apart. Thus Hanover will appeal.
For the Cohousing Woodside group, this position was not unexpected. It means considerable further delay. However, it also affords us more time to grow and consolidate the group. If the appeal supports the Council’s arguments, and compromises are forced on Hanover, there may be knock-on consequences for the Cohousing scheme, but these remain to be seen. For the locals around St Luke’s, their fears about over-burdening local schools may turn out to be well founded. For Haringey residents in the over 55 age-bracket, particularly those affected by the bedroom tax and looking for somewhere smaller to move to, the message seems to be that there is adequate sheltered housing and they are in no way a priority of Haringey Council.