Regeneration (Tottenham)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:26 pm on 11th January 2011.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham 1:26 pm, 11th January 2011

Thank you, Mrs Riordan, for allowing me to have this debate, which comes at such a crucial time for my constituency, wider north London and the upper Lea valley. This is one of the first times that I have had the opportunity in the House to give a speech that surveys my entire constituency. I do not think that I have spoken in this way since my maiden speech 10 years ago. I said then that we have to invest in the souls of Tottenham people as well as their skills.

The decision before us would rip the soul out of my constituency and wider north London, and affect the entire upper Lea valley. I will explain why that is so in relation to regeneration. Three things make being the MP for Tottenham particularly special: one is our history, which is wrapped up in our football team, but also in our special part of north London. Tottenham is on the A10 corridor and the old Roman road that ran from Bishopsgate to Lincoln, York and the north. It is historically part of Middlesex and the home of the Somerset family. Tottenham, and the London Borough of Enfield, is a part of London that people have come to from all corners of the world to make their home, because of the nature of its housing stock and its position near places where people could find jobs.

That point brings me to the second special thing about the constituency, which, of course, is its people. In the past 50 or 60 years of Tottenham's history, they have been people working in the rag trade, Jewish refugees from violence and prejudice in Europe, and immigrants from the Commonwealth who came to make a new life. Those immigrants included my father, who arrived in this country in 1956. Tottenham is where I grew up. I went to primary school there and I know the streets, so this debate is personal. It is an important opportunity to raise these issues.

The third special thing about my constituency is that it is always wonderful to represent a seat with a top premiership club. It is important to think about the history of the club. Spurs was started 120 years ago by local schoolboys from the Hotspur cricket club, and played in Northumberland park. The team was first brought together by a bible teacher from All Hallows church in Tottenham, and was represented by heroes from the community, many of whom were born and brought up in Tottenham. Successive generations have supported the team for 120 years, paying for tickets and supporting the team throughout its highs and lows.

During the dark days of the 1980s, we saw some of the worst violence that we have ever seen on the streets of this country, but not long afterwards, Tottenham won the FA cup and there was cheering that lifted my spirits at a bleak time. Regeneration of communities such as Tottenham, Moss Side in Manchester, Toxteth in Liverpool and the Gorbals in Glasgow also regenerates our country. Our country's success is guided by the poorest and the weakest in our communities, so this debate and the decision that may lead to the football club leaving one of London's poorest communities is grave. Who allowed that to happen? Whose bright idea was it to encourage Tottenham Hotspur to bid for the Olympic stadium on the other side of London, which would leave one of the biggest regeneration holes in London that we have seen for a generation? There are rumours that the Mayor encouraged Spurs to bid, which seems an absurd and ridiculous decision in the context of the regeneration of one of the poorest communities in the country.

At the turn of the 21st century, Tottenham was a town that the Government had forgotten in a part of London that too often failed its residents and especially its young people. When I became the MP for Tottenham, more young people there were going to prison than to university. Tottenham was still scarred by unemployment, with levels of more than 20% in the 1980s and 1990s, and in some communities it was higher than 40%. Some housing estates and communities experienced unemployment of more than 50%.

Imagine what that meant for hundreds of young people growing up without work, and for their families. Imagine the legacy that we still live with because of that unemployment. I need not name the headlines about Tottenham, because they were national headlines that usually involved vulnerable children who were knifed or who died in other ways-I am thinking of Victoria Climbié and Baby P. Much of that poverty relates to that legacy, and the decision on regeneration is one of the most pressing that faces the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is my job to remind the Department of that, and to ensure that plans exist for Tottenham if the team leaves.

The community has faced enormous tension and unrest and has been stigmatised, as have others in the past, but over the last decade it has begun to mend. More young people now go to university than ever before in our history. Schools have been rebuilt, and some are now national beacons of success. I am thinking of Gladesmore community school where the head teacher has been recognised by the Queen for all that he has achieved. I am thinking of the accident and emergency department at the Whittington hospital, where I was born, and the North Middlesex hospital, which have been largely renewed and rebuilt. I am thinking of the £50 million that we received in the new deal for communities, to which I am sure the Minister will refer. All of that lifted hopes and aspirations-unemployment was falling back a bit, but is now on the rise again-and happened over the recent period in order to renew the community. Housing estates have seen their housing stock renewed and rebuilt. Prior to the economic downturn, there was a period of hope for the community, but clearly, a decade to achieve all that we wanted to achieve against a backdrop of such disadvantage was always not going to be long enough. That is why we stand at a crossroads-do we march forwards or backwards? That is the decision that lies ahead. The story is not yet finished.

Tottenham still has the highest rate of unemployment in London, with more than 6,000 people currently out of work or on benefits. Tottenham still has one of the largest numbers of households living in temporary or emergency accommodation, with more than 5,000 families in Haringey having no fixed place to live. Four in five children born in Tottenham are still born into poverty, one of the highest rates in the country. It is clear, Mrs Riordan, that although things have got better, we have a long way to go if we are to ensure that every child in Tottenham grows up in a decent home, free of poverty, and in a community in which work is the norm, not the exception.

That brings me to the third factor that makes Tottenham special-Spurs. Since I have been the Member of Parliament for Tottenham, I have worked closely with three successive chairmen and owners of the club. The first was Alan Sugar-he has since been knighted-of "The Apprentice" fame. The second was David Buckler who came in for a brief period after Alan left to stabilise the club and led the way to the current owner, Daniel Levy. Before I became an MP, Spurs was not doing much in the community relative to other clubs. I am thinking particularly of clubs such as Sunderland in the north-east-I will not mention our near rivals, although I see that my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn has taken his seat and he may mention the name of that other north London club. Spurs was not doing much in the community, but there has been a transformation.

I worked with Daniel Levy to establish the Tottenham Hotspur foundation as a model, and it is now a beacon in the premiership. It was established with £4.5 million of funding, and enables thousands of young people throughout north London to take part in projects. It is transforming their lives and attracting match funding, and not just in sport. There are wonderful things happening with disability groups and pensioners, not just in Haringey, but in Enfield, Barnet and Waltham Forest where the foundation is making a huge difference.

The club has attracted a succession of top-class international players, such as Freddie Kanoute, Mido, Berbatov, who was with us for a while, and Wilson Palacios. My office assisted them and many others with work permits, and immigration requirements to enable them to come to the community. Despite opposition from some local councillors, I strongly supported the application by Spurs for a new training ground in Enfield, and permission was duly granted despite that opposition.

The club is an immense source of pride for my community, and the young people in it. In what can feel a parochial, mundane and sometimes hostile and discriminatory atmosphere, it is a permanent badge of excellence. It shows people that they can achieve sporting excellence on the doorstep, and that reads across not just to sport, but to every area of life.

That is why I am so angry about what is taking place without proper public consultation with either the fans or my community. Those young people, whose hopes were lifted when we won the Olympic dream, are now to be dumped on from a great height because of this irresponsible decision to rip excellence from the constituency. It is unacceptable. Someone is responsible, and it is not just the club, which is being encouraged to ignore its history and its community, but local, regional and, potentially, national politicians. I want answers about how this has come about, and why this is to happen to one of the poorest communities in London.