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By David Lammy
Tottenham's future is looking brighter, but the government must not stand idle
'This must never be allowed to happen again', is the opening gambit of every government minister I've met in the past year. Quite right, I reply, but is that it? Tottenham is not recovering just from the riot, nor is it recovering just from the recession: it is still recovering from a half century of decline. The boarded up shops that dot Tottenham High Road are as likely to be victims of the current financial crisis as they are of last summer's disturbances. The key to Tottenham's recovery is ambition, here and in Westminster. The former has it in abundance, the latter seems unsure.
Sceptical ministers should spend ten minutes scanning Tottenham's most recent history. The half-measures and compromises of the past have done little to arrest its slide - there are few areas of London with the concentrated poverty of Tottenham. The last Labour Government tried. Huge investment in neighbourhood renewal led to an expansion in public sector employment that suppressed the total number of unemployed to a quarter of what is was in the early 1990s. Public services were revolutionized - school results were the best ever, hospital waiting lists were slashed and thousands more were going to university or taking up an apprenticeship. These were all important - lives were improved immeasurably - but they failed to change Tottenham's economic viability.
There was an awkward acceptance that although capitalism had forgotten Tottenham, the state would take up the slack, now and forever. When recession struck, Tottenham was dependent on a public sector that went into full-scale retreat. The investment of the previous decade has been nullified as unemployment and poverty sky-rocket back to the levels of 20 years ago.
Sadly, little appears to have been learnt. The fund that will be used to 'modernise and rejuvenate' Tottenham High Road is a start, but more is needed to change the fortunes of the 28,000 residents who are on out-of-work benefits and of whom only 10 per cent are eligible to receive help from the government's flagship work programme, or the 19,000 who languish in unaffordable, overcrowded housing.
Platitudes from ministers about fixing 'broken Britain' through the 'Big Society' will not warm homes or feed children. Nor will pontificating about 'inclusiveness' and 'integration' within the most diverse postcode in Europe change anything for the 200 different communities that live here, united by little more than their poverty. Totten-ham needs a lung transplant at the hands of a surgeon, not a manicure from beauticians.
This isn't inconceivable. Poverty and hopelessness used to afflict areas such as Stratford in East London as they do in Tottenham today. But the vision and ambition that has since been visited on the are as a result of the Olympic development mean that it is on course to be an international centre of business, prosperity and employment.
An equivalent public works project to the Olympics is out of the question in this era of financial retrenchment, but there is good reason to believe that Tottenham can undergo a similar transformation. It already has the potential to be an impressive commuter town, with rail and Tube connections to central London and Stansted Airport. Proposed railway redevelopment plans would put the whole of Tottenham within a 20-minute train ride of the City of London with four departures each hour with an even faster connection to London Stansted. There are thousands of empty offices and vacant brownfield sites owned by the state that could potentially be used for new, expansive housing and office developments.
Change is already on the horizon: in the next few years, a private sector-led regeneration scheme based around
The immediate potential of the area is massive, but if this is to be realised, the barometer of success has to be far loftier than 'never again'. London cannot work as a coherent whole if we allow Tottenham to suffer alongside the enormous affluence evident in other parts of the capital. If London is to compete as a global capital in the 21st century, it has to stop tolerating the inequality of the inner city.
Manicures will no longer do and a lack of resources cannot be used as an excuse for half measures: the only thing we cannot afford to do is to pay people to do nothing.
(David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham and author of Out of the Ashes: Britain after the Riots.)
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