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Archives for January 2011

Who rules the roost?

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Kurt Barling | 17:58 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

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We return to the vexed question of the social and economic impact of football clubs.

Over the past week BBC London has been trying to get to grips with just how Londoners feel about the future of the Olympic Stadium and who should inhabit it after the fun and Games are over.

The whole Olympic stadium bidding process is beginning to feel like a rushed job. West Ham United's joint bid with Newham has raised questions about who exactly would be liable if their bid was successful for the £40m loan from the Treasury to a 'Special Delivery Vehicle' if West Ham can't pay their bills.

At the moment no one will answer the question. But presumably it will be some of the poorest taxpayers in London. Whilst it's easy to spin lines about the wonders that a loan could achieve, it's Newham Council's responsibility to know who is going to pay if the dream sours. There's been silence from the club and council.

I've also spent time in and around Tottenham High Street. All around the White Hart Lane ground of Tottenham Hotspur are boarded up properties. The reason they are boarded up, is because THFC have bought up the land as part of the Northumberland Park Development.

Anyone who believes the Spurs board's original intent was not serious is barking up the wrong tree.

But now that chairman Daniel Levy has clarified that in all probability the football club will have to look elsewhere for new premises even if they don't secure the Olympic Stadium potentially creates a whole new problem of blight.

It doesn't take much imagination to see that if Spurs now prevaricate about what they are going to do, it is going to take longer for any other investors to decide if they want to be part of regeneration plans in Tottenham.

In the mean time Tottenham residents will have to live with the bigger eyesore of boarded up premises without the prospect of any serious development on the horizon.

There are those who think that a football club like Spurs or West Ham are entitled to locate wherever they like. It is a commercial decision which should be dictated by what is in the best interests of the club and its fans.

However, in the case of West Ham it's not purely and simply a commercial decision. Newham argue 49 councillors out of 60 voted for the loan. The question remains whether they were clear about the public liability issue.

Over in Tottenham the club cannot argue for years with local businesses to support their case for redevelopment and then suddenly expect those same people to be happy as Larry when they change their minds and make it clear they want to up sticks because years of talk have led to an unviable plan, which by the way was viable two months ago.

The Olympic Park Legacy Company has now said it will delay its decision.

After our survey suggested that an overwhelming majority of Londoners want athletics to be at the heart of what the Olympic Stadium offers perhaps its time for the football community to listen to what non football addicts think.

At least Londoners now have time to broaden the argument again.

It seems that some people think the public are mugs and don't need to be involved in decisions which inevitably have a dramatic impact on their lives.

People in Haringey and Newham should be forgiven for thinking they live in a country where they can make their opinions heard.

New Cross fire - a turning point?

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Kurt Barling | 11:01 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

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January 18th 1981 was a point of no return; an important historic moment in the life of Black Britain and arguably a defining moment for our modern diverse society.

On that day a fire at a birthday party at 439 New Cross Road, Deptford in south east London ended the lives of 13 black teenagers.

In the 30 years that have passed the controversy over how the fire started has never been laid to rest. Some have said and continue to argue that Yvonne Ruddock's 16th celebrations were cruelly ended by a fire bomb attack by racists.

Others, including members of the bereaved families, continue to believe that it was started by accident as a consequence of a dispute at the party itself.

What is clear is that the initial police investigation failed to find anyone or establish exactly how the fire started.

Despite two unsatisfactory inquests neither who nor what caused the fire has ever been established. Many people continue to believe that the Metropolitan Police failed in their duty to the 13 children and their families.

The police started the theory of the fire bomb.

On the first day of the investigation a police officer reported to Yvonne's mother, Armza Ruddock, that people had seen a man throwing a petrol bomb through a window on the ground floor of the house and then run away.

A few days before, Jill Knight a Conservative MP in Birmingham had announced her displeasure at what were deemed to be noisy black house parties.

A theme picked up enthusiastically by anti-immigrant voices at the time. In that climate the fire soon became the spark for a dramatic political intervention by black people, the like of which had never been seen before in Britain.

Incensed by slow police progress and a perceived lack of sensitivity by the authorities to the children's deaths, mass meetings were organised and a huge march planned for Monday 2 March under the umbrella of a New Cross Massacre Action Group.

It brought together activists from across the spectrum and around the country; black panthers, black parents organisations, community organisers, angry residents, and black youth groups.

Many of the names now associated with Black political participation were either involved in the organisation of the protest or eventually taking part in what was called the Black People's Day of Action.

The overall organisation of the event was delegated to John La Rose, a formidable intellectual and humanist. In the heat of the battle over race politics and the call for equality and justice for Black people La Rose advocated that the protest should not be focussed around the 'politics of resentment'. Not everyone agreed.

Thirty years ago it was an extraordinary spectacle to see up to 25,000 mostly black people marching from New Cross to Hyde Park. It took many Londoners by surprise and genuinely unnerved the establishment.

Only two years before in Southall a similar march in the heart of the Asian community for civil rights had ended in the death of campaigner Blair Peach.

Perhaps more importantly it showed that the children of migrants and migrants themselves were at a turning point.

Now they wanted to publically and collectively express their dissatisfaction with what many believed was a culture of discrimination and rights abuse by institutions of state and the police in particular. A positive step to get positive results in the quest for equal treatment.

Until then there was a sense that beyond the Black communities themselves few people acknowledged the contributions being made by these very communities to redefining what it was to be British.

Until then it was still a widespread notion, for example, that you couldn't be Black and British in Britain. I know because I was asked.

A demonstration in London following the fatal New Cross fire in 1981

Very soon after the march, the Metropolitan Police launched operation Swamp in south London. It was a trigger for a summer of nationwide rioting that took Margaret Thatcher's government by surprise.

So when people look back and remember a summer of disturbances 30 years ago; before Brixton, before Toxteth, before Handsworth, Moss Side and St Pauls in the caustic summer of 1981 there was New Cross.

The public inquiries that followed under Lord Scarman (1981) and ultimately to the Macpherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence (1999), which looked at the relationship between young people and the Met Police, all in a sense followed on from where the Action Group had left off in its intense monitoring of the police's conduct over the New Cross fire.

But whilst it can be rightly claimed to be a defining moment in the history of modern Black Britain, for many of the victim's families the New Cross fire at 439 New Cross Road has left unfinished business.

Playing away from home?

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Kurt Barling | 09:20 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Olympic Stadium in Stratford

The controversy continues over which football club will move to the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 Games

Tottenham Hotspur is on a collision course with its local political representatives.

The football club management has spent much of the past decade trying to pull itself into the elite of global sports clubs.

As well as scoring more goals on the pitch they hoped to convince Haringey, the local authority, to give planning permission for a new 56,000 seat stadium in one of the poorest wards in the country, Northumberland Park.

Into the bargain would come a massive hotel, new homes and business premises and a pump-priming exercise for the depressed locality.

Much of the moving and shaking was about getting planning permission that would enable Spurs to stay in the Tottenham area.

After a lot of hard bargaining, agreement was reached and the redevelopment of White Hart Lane was given planning permission last year by Haringey and the Mayor of London.

It was all reminiscent of the heated discussions between Islington Council and Arsenal when the decision was made to move from Highbury to the Emirates.

All settled then? Not quite. Allegedly encouraged by Boris Johnson, Spurs were invited to throw their hat in the ring to take over the Olympic Stadium.

The ghosts of all those Hotspur greats must have become restless at the talk of Tottenham Hotspur FC, the pride of north London to its fans, moving east?

The local MP David Lammy is seething. He made it clear in Parliament that he believes this proposal is bad for North London. He says that the regeneration of one of the poorest districts in the capital was to be stimulated by the much fought for Northumberland Park Development.

"When I stood in Trafalgar Square on 6 July 2005, never did I imagine that our successful Olympic bid would mean that residents of Tottenham, and those of Enfield, Waltham Forest and the whole of the Upper Lea Valley would have the heart and soul ripped out of their communities. What kind of an Olympic legacy would that be?"

He wants the Government to intervene to ensure the final decision about who is selected as a preferred bidder in March, considers the overall impact of the decision on London.

If you look at the internet chatter amongst die hard Spurs fans you very quickly get the sense that those willing to articulate a view think it's a bad idea. Stratford Hotspur does not have the same ring to it.

Lammy thinks Spurs are fattening up the sacred cow for a more lucrative share price rise with an Olympic Stadium move. In other words they're chasing the money and that's now not in Tottenham.

Sir Keith Mills, a non-executive director at Tottenham, is reported as saying:

"We'll be moving to a part of London that is 100 per cent more accessible; we'll generate more revenue; it's closer to Canary Wharf and to the City; and it'll attract more sponsorship."

There is a strong sense of a clash of cultures. Tottenham Hotspur PLC says they have commercial decisions to make and they want, indeed need, to take fans with them.

Lammy and the local authority who've invested a lot of time in securing the Spurs stay in Tottenham with promises over Northumberland Park feel after a 111 year association, their community is being betrayed.

The first decision on the preferred bidder will be made at the end of January by the Olympic Legacy Company. They will make their recommendations to the Mayor of London, and two Government ministers to make a final decision by the spring.

Finally an Olympic legacy debate seems to have sparked into life.

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