Will regeneration “solve” social problem?


Tottenham in £1 billion turnaround

Haringey council’s 20-year vision to make the most of the £1 billion private and public funds earmarked for the borough offers a foundation of hope for one of London’s poorest areas, says Robert Bevan

After the House of Commons was devastated by a German air raid in 1941, Winston Churchill reflected: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Just how directly buildings shape us — or rather our behaviour — remains a moot point, but a desire to reshape the physical environment of our cities after violence remains a perennial.

Last Tuesday, after long consultation, Haringey council’s cabinet agreed its Strategic Regeneration Framework, a 20-year vision for transforming riot-damaged Tottenham with 10,000 new homes, sports facilities, transport upgrades and improved health, schools and local job opportunities for its residents.

The report into the 2011 disturbances, It Took Another Riot, took its name from Lord Heseltine’s report into the 1981 unrest that shook London and Liverpool,  and led to inner-city investment in both cities. In 1985, the area was disturbed again when Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm estate erupted in deadly violence and efforts to regenerate the area since have included an arts centre, a new Tottenham Hale station and the building of a big box retail park nearby. It remains, however, one of the poorest areas of London.

Today, more than £1 billion has been earmarked to rebuild Tottenham once again and “reimagining the built environment” is at the top of the post-riot agenda. Some of the team who created the Olympic Park, including Mayoral adviser to the Games Neale Coleman, are on board. Transport for London is investing almost £250 million and the private sector £700 million, with the Mayor’s office underwriting a £500  million loan guarantee to developers.

 36tottenhamTottenham Hale, in the south-east corner of the area, is to get an even bigger Tube and rail station while, to the north, White Hart Lane’s £430 million football stadium will take bulbous shape by 2016 alongside the bulk of the recently completed Tottenham University

Technical College (UTC) sponsored by Spurs and Middlesex University. The college will specialise in sports medicine and health. Online fashion retailer Asos is promising a “stitching academy” to skill-up local apprentices and, in June, leading architecture practice John McAslan + Partners is opening an N17 satellite office that will take on two trainees — a few of the 5,000 new jobs hoped for in the area.

But Tottenham still has a serious problem. It’s not only its bad rep that has seen the gentrifying desire-line that has crept northwards from Shoreditch to Dalston and beyond falter at Tottenham then leapfrog towards Walthamstow. It is also because its very physicality — the historic DNA of Tottenham’s layout — is working against it. The area is built along the arrow–straight High Road, part of the ferociously trafficked A10. To walk its length is a 45-minute, three-mile hike. There is no single focus with which a community can identify.

Tottenham has always been a strung- out place. The A10 began as Roman Ermine Street, running northwards from London along the Lee Valley marshes that marked the line between Saxon England and the Danelaw, Middlesex and Essex. Small villages and Georgian villas appeared along the High Road before the Victorians built north-south railway lines that brought mile upon mile of workers’ housing which spanned these transport verticals like rungs on a ladder.

This means there is not just one Tottenham but many: Tottenham Hale, Tottenham Green, Bruce Grove and South Tottenham, for example. All are Tottenham, and, individually, none. On some lengths of the High Road even the locals can’t name the place you’re standing in. To make matters worse, the rungs of the ladder have snapped as post-war housing estates, closed industrial sites and hostile road systems have broken east-west connections. The mainline trains passing up and down speed through but rarely stop.

What gives hope this time around is that the regeneration proposals don’t, on the whole, seek to sprinkle an area with superficial “iconic” architecture. Instead, global planning and engineering practice Arup has been commissioned to draw up an intelligent Physical Development Framework that seeks to give shape to the strategic vision by fixing Tottenham’s ladder and re-engineering its DNA.

Proposals include reinstating the southern connecting rungs by replacing Tottenham Hale’s out-of-town style retail sheds and fearsome one-way dual carriageways with people-friendly streets lined with shops and cafés and flats above them — some of the 10,000 mixed-tenure homes planned — then linking this westwards towards Seven Sisters Tube station and the proud Victorian civic buildings around leafy Tottenham Green. Some 1,200 students already live in blocks at Hale Village and the council want to see them spend locally rather than taking their cash straight back down the Victoria line.

At the top end of the High Road, meanwhile, ideas include a new east-west public space to link the restored arches of White Hart Lane station to a new stadium approach. If built, this High Road West scheme would have cafés and leisure facilities, and could join up with mews buildings one street back from the main road. The adjacent Love Lane Estate would need to be demolished to allow this new axis, with council tenants promised replacement homes at similar rents (although tenure issues elsewhere have not been settled).


Halfway between these points, historic Bruce Grove will be made into a retail core with shops clustered together rather than smeared, barely surviving, along the length of the A10. Some Georgian houses away from the clusters could, it is suggested, have their later shopfronts removed and be restored as homes. If successful, these cores, each with a heritage of attractive buildings surviving from village days, will, along with rebuilt Tottenham Hale, challenge the tyranny of the linear, broadening and deepening the area’s appeal.

Tens of millions are also being invested in creating the extra train tracks needed to allow the stopping services that are essential if change is to reach remote and deprived Northumberland Park.

That said, Haringey’s vision is not without its dangers. January saw the council decide to take action against the informal “live-work” units sprouting in south Tottenham’s warehouses that have flouted planning rules. Its creative residents now fear mass evictions.

At nearby Ward’s Corner, a former department store that became a lively, if scruffy indoor market is to be demolished, despite fierce local opposition, in favour of a generic “gateway” shopping centre for the likes of Pizza Express and Costa Coffee.

These initiatives forget that it is just such grassroots micro-businesses that helped kick-start the successful regeneration of places such as Camden Lock and Shoreditch. Spurs’ expansionist plans also involve demolitions that could break some good village bones and work against the fragile sense of place if not handled carefully. While the handsome Carpetright corner building that went up in flames, threatening the lives of families living above it, has been restored, the historic Bruce Grove Post Office, for one, has been levelled after fire damage from the riots.

And amid planning department staff shortages, design quality needs to be driven up to avoid the kind of apartment blocks of flats already built that deploy panels of brightly coloured cladding as stick-on optimism and a cheap substitute for good materials.

Architecture alone will not shape a riot-free Tottenham or create a ladder out of poverty.

Alan Strickland, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and housing, is at least sensitive to such risks: “Good-quality buildings and places won’t solve social problems,” he agrees, “but they give us a good foundation for doing so.”

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