A new Goal for Tottenham's old Co-op store.


   APRIL 2003  
  Converting non-residential properties for housing    
    Many London readers of the News will recognise the building in the photograph.  It’s called Union Point and used to be an LCS department store serving Tottenham.  Later it passed into the ownership of Allied Carpets.  Recently the Metropolitan Housing Trust (MHT) bought the empty upper floors of the building and converted hem into flats. This article looks at how this was done and whether the Co-op could learn any lessons from it.  Union Point stands on a prominent corner site in Tottenham High Street a few hundred yards from White Hart Lane, home of the top London football club Tottenham Hotspur.  Built by the London Co-operative Society in 1930, this striking Art Deco building is a local landmark.  On the corner, above the entrance, the words LCS 1930 are engraved in stone with letters a couple of feet high.  The three storey building is decorated with LCS motifs along each wall.  Its grand style typifies the self confidence of the Co-operative Movement in the years between the Wars.  
  The Co-op store closed years ago.  The present owners Allied Carpets sold the upper floors to the Metropolitan Housing Trust because they were surplus to their requirements.  The Trust then reated 26 one bedroom and two bed-roomed flats.  These were offered for sale to local people on a shared ownership basis.  Haringey Council’s tenants were given priority.  The starting price for a one-bedroom apartment was £47,500.  The minimum equity share was set at 50%.  The combined mortgage/rent payments, including service and management charges, amount to £461 a month.   
However, before the tenants could move in, a lot needed to be done.  The shabby exterior was cleaned, repaired and repainted and the windows replaced with new double glazed coated aluminium units.  Separate street access was provided to the flats through a side entrance.  Two internal stairways give access to the flats in the building itself and also to the extra ones built on the roof.  The communal roof terrace is ideal for socialising on warm summer evenings.  When the local MP David Lammy the Under-Secretary of State for Health’ opened the building he called it a ‘flagship development’.
What’s all this got to do with the Co-op?  All over the country Co-ops own surplus land and under-utilised facilities.  In the past, many societies have been reluctant to consider conversions because of the costs involved.  This concern can be very real given their tight budgets.  But it should be emphasised that the Union Point development didn’t cost Allied Carpets a penny.  They still own their shop and also they got money from the sale.  The development costs were borne by the Trust and the taxpayer.  The cost of the scheme was £2.8m including the acquisition of the site.  Of this, £1.28m came from social housing grants.  If a Co-op became involved in a scheme like Union Point, it would substantially help its bottom line.
But why should the retail Co-ops get involved with housing?  Our movement has always been concerned with social justice and fairness.  We must be concerned with the serious shortage of housing in Britain today.  Rising house prices have put any kind of home ownership out of the reach of many people on low incomes.  Council house building has come to a standstill.  But Council waiting lists are getting longer as the demand for affordable homes grows year on year.  Many families are still being forced to live in bed and breakfast accommodation.  The Union Point scheme involves shared ownership.  Unfortunately, that puts it beyond the means of many people on low incomes.  The only solution is to build more houses to be let at affordable rents.
But bricks and mortar are not enough.  People need to feel that their homes belong to them not to some distant landlord. Housing Associations can’t fill this gap.  Co-operative housing can and does.  It can bring many of the benefits of owner-occupation to people who would otherwise be excluded.  So may I urge your readers to look at the Co-op premises near to where you live?  If you find any that have development potential, please contact your local Society.  Please ask them to consider joining up with a local housing co-op to develop the site and provide much needed homes.  That’s what co-operation between ' co-operatives’ is about.  We can do better than Allied Carpets.  Their aim is to benefit their shareholders.  In the Co-op, our aim is to benefit the whole community.

This Article was first published in Co-op News in April 2003

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