Council leader outlines COVID-19 next phase plans

Haringey Civic Centre
Credit: Stephen Furner

By Luchia Robinson

Haringey Council is looking at ways of phasing out of lockdown measures. This includes stepping down from the resilience support it has been providing throughout the pandemic.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the council has implemented a number of immediate measures. This has included setting up a food distribution service and providing emergency accommodation for rough sleepers within the borough.

The leader of the council, Cllr Joseph Ejiofor says these services are now being readdressed, and methods to ensure sustainability are being developed.

He said: “The most important thing is to make sure that people who’ve been most disadvantaged by the Covid lockdown can be helped to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.”

Ensuring this, he adds, will involve some of the emergency implementations being moved on to the voluntary sector, which the council will support with £0.5 million hardship funding. £250,000 will be available for operating costs, and the other £250,000 will be for critical assistance.

The council is also expecting the government to reimburse the £70m cost of addressing the pandemic. This amount includes an estimated £45m of income losses and additional expenditure, as well as a loss of over £16m cash income reduction, and an expected £8m housing revenue loss. So far central government has awarded Haringey £15.4m in emergency grants.

Community wealth building is high on the council’s agenda as a way of tackling the imminent recession. This approach consists of retaining wealth within the borough by procuring services locally and helping local businesses to build capacity by upskilling their workforces.

Cllr Ejiofor said: “I think the recession itself will last 18 months as a minimum before we get back to any semblance of what everything used to be like, and that is only based upon if we don’t get a second wave, and a third wave.

“Our only priority is to make sure that having got through the coronavirus lockdown, that our people don’t continue to suffer.”

The decision to not yet reopen schools has been taken as a safety precaution to help minimise transmission of the virus.

“The council’s position is that schools should reopen when it’s safe to do so. A number of schools have undergone robust risk assessments on their buildings, and on their processes to move small numbers of people in and around the buildings, but there is absolutely no way that you can socially distance in a classroom which is ten metres by ten metres, and has got 30 kids in it,” says Cllr Ejiofor.

“The problem is that the national government is pressing councils like us.
“We believe that is the right route forward and refute pressure from elsewhere to take a different route.”

As the government is no longer committed to funding emergency housing for rough sleepers, the council is looking at locations to build modular homes for when the temporary accommodation currently being used, is no longer available. The council is also restarting its social housing building programme.

In 2018, the administration pledged to build 1000 social rent homes by 2022. The council has admitted that it is not on course to deliver this target, and that the majority of homes will be built a year later than originally intended. The council attributes this to “issues around coronavirus,” with construction work having stopped.

Cllr Ejiofor said: “We are likely to be looking at completing only 225 homes by May 2022, but completing over 800 homes by May 2023.

“This is just one of those things where the programme’s been impacted; but as a council that has built 32 homes in 32 years, 200+ homes in four years is a really big step forward.”

Last month, seven new sites across the borough were identified as potential housing locations, including: 345 White Hart Lane, Kerswell Close (St Ann’s), and Waltheof Gardens (White Hart Lane), as well as Stokley Court (Hornsey), Fredrick Morfill House (Bounds Green), Chettle Court (Stroud Green), and Blaenavon Garages (Fortis Green).

Proposals for these newly identified sites will be discussed with residents in these areas.

Whilst transitioning out of lockdown, the council’s key objectives are to improve local infrastructure, and make investments in local businesses.

Cllr Ejiofor said: “It keeps coming back to community wealth building – we need to be putting our money into places that our residents get benefits from.”

“I’d hope Tottenham’s residents have high expectations of their council, because we have high expectations for Haringey.”