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Neighbours’ wishlist for future of Finsbury Park laid out at five-hour conference

PUBLISHED: 17:20 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:21 29 March 2017

The event lasted five hours. Picture: Polly Hancock

The event lasted five hours. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

Politicians, businesses and neighbours met on the fringe of Finsbury Park on Saturday for a five-hour discussion about the area’s redevelopment. The Gazette was there for all of it.

Attendees applaud Jeremy Corbyn MP. Picture: Polly Hancock Attendees applaud Jeremy Corbyn MP. Picture: Polly Hancock

The great and the good of north London descended on Stroud Green Primary School on Saturday to discuss Finsbury Park’s future against a backdrop of cuts, gentrification and economic uncertainty.

The third Finsbury Park “regeneration conference” – titled Our Finsbury Park, Our Future – was organised by the Finsbury Park Trust to bring together politicians, businesses and neighbours to discuss development. Speakers included top brass from Hackney, Islington and Haringey councils, as well as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – whose Islington North constituency borders the park.

The trust’s Simon Donovan said: “From our perspective the day went very well. We managed to bring together some of the most significant people from within the community and discuss some of the important issues we face. It’s good to start these kinds of conversations.”

But not everyone was convinced by the five-hour “left-wing joy fest”, as one guest called the gathering.

Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville speaking at the event. Picture: Polly Hancock Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville speaking at the event. Picture: Polly Hancock

Councillors were keen to demonstrate their ability to do more with less, bringing in representatives from the business community to show how they were plugging funding gaps by fostering close ties with the private sector. Paul Cooke, director of Higgins Construction – which is behind the £64million Kings Crescent Estate project – said “the Hackney model” was “very attractive” and that his firm had delivered “sustainable” regeneration.

“However, affordable housing has always been an issue in London,” he conceded, adding the problem could worsen in the wake of Britain’s exit from the EU. A weak pound means building materials cost more, he said, while the eastern European workforce is packing its bags.

But Mr Cooke told the room this meant a chance for construction firms to work with young people from local communities to foster the skills that will help the boroughs build their way out of the

housing crisis.

Closing speaker Jeremy Corbyn MP. Picture: Polly Hancock Closing speaker Jeremy Corbyn MP. Picture: Polly Hancock

For Elridge Culverwell of Stapleton Hall Road, the issue is that developers aren’t paying attention to who they sell their new homes to. “The problem we have here is they sell to people from all over the UK and even overseas who buy these homes as an investment,” he said. “They don’t do enough to make Finsbury Park an affordable place and the councils need to check who these ‘affordable homes’ they build end up with,” he said.

Hackney mayor Philip Glanville said in his borough 80 per cent of new build homes go to Londoners.

Other speakers included James Gaffney, director of Telford Homes, who was quick to add that his

firm is also making contributions

Finsbury Park construction site Wells Terrace. Picture: Polly Hancock Finsbury Park construction site Wells Terrace. Picture: Polly Hancock

to the area. The company is responsible for the beleaguered Wells Terrace development at Finsbury Park station, which will eventually see a Cineworld cinema and a Marks and Spencer arrive as part of a shiny new shopping complex at the busiest tube station outside Zone 1.

But neighbours weren’t convinced. “Why can’t the

shops at Wells Terrace be independent?” asked Sarah Roth, of Granville Road. “We value the individuality of the shops in our area but the situation is getting worse and we want to see more done to protect them.”

Councillors from the three boroughs, including Guy Nicholson from Hackney and Gary Heather from Islington, vowed to cooperate across local authority borders to improve services they offer people in difficult circumstances. But Thamasin Marsh of Wilberforce Road told the room it was nonsense.

Finsbury Park station underpass. Picture: Polly Hancock Finsbury Park station underpass. Picture: Polly Hancock

“The tri-borough partnership is a farce,” she said. “Who am I meant to go to if I have a problem?”

Mr Corbyn swung by on his way back from the Welsh Labour Party Conference to make a contribution in front of a hugely supportive audience: “When people ask me what [we can] do about the division in certain parts of the country, I tell them to learn from Finsbury Park.”

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