Interview: Malcolm Smith, interim Tottenham programme director

Wed 2nd September 2015, 12:39 pm

Malcolm Smith has had a long career at local authorities in London and has now returned to Haringey, the borough where he lived as a student. He spoke to Sitematch about development projects in and outside the capital.

Which projects are you most proud of being involved in?

In the mid-90s, I was the director in charge of delivering the partnership programme to regenerate Peckham in south London. While always a vibrant buzzy place, then it also had a less savoury reputation. Through a combination of public money, private sector commitment, a passionate local community and a ton of hard work, new housing, jobs and a rejuvenated town centre were the result. Peckham is now one of the best places to live and visit in London. More than any other, Peckham is the programme of which I am most proud. Honourable mentions should also go the Building Schools for the Future programme in Lewisham, and the current regeneration projects in Lewisham Town Centre.

Which three developments outside the Borough do you most admire and why?

King’s Cross, because I can remember what it was like back in the early 70s (yes I’m that old!) and more importantly because the people responsible cared about quality and the experience of just being there.

The Kennedy Library on the waterfront outside Boston – simply because it is beautiful architecture that properly honours the man, warts and all.

Goldsmith’s College Ben Pimlott Library by Will Alsop, because bravely he showed how steel and glass can add so much to the joy of urban life.

What makes developers good partners?

- When they make a real attempt to understand the sometimes disorganised demands of public sector clients.

- When they show a real empathy with the not unreasonable fears of communities affected by regeneration projects and programmes.

- When quality is demonstrably as important to the developer as the bottom line.

- When they are prepared to admit that they either don’t know the answer, or heaven forbid, they got it wrong.

- When they are fun to work with.

What were your first impressions of the borough when you started work there?

I first lived in Haringey in the early 70s as a student and am now just winding up my interim assignment as Tottenham Programme Director forty-odd years later. Much has changed. However, unfortunately much hasn’t too – hence the commitment to regeneration not only in Tottenham but also Wood Green. It is still a borough of stark contrasts between the affluent west and the areas to the east with a multitude of serious socio economic problems. However, perhaps most striking is the passion of people for their neighbourhood and communities. This is none more evident than in Tottenham where there is a real vibrancy from new businesses starting up, new housing being planned and a commitment from the borough to help support new jobs and enterprise.

If you could visit any country in the world, where would you go and why?

As someone born and raised in the Falkland Islands, I have a fascination with those parts of the empire where our ‘fingerprints’ are still visible, hence I would like to visit Shimla in the Indian hill country. I have images of old home counties Surrey, sipping a long G and T on the veranda. I’ll get there one day I’m sure.

Which three people do you admire most and why?

Sir Steve Bullock, mayor of Lewisham. Steve was a great politician to work for because he did the strategy and politics and left the officers to deliver. This is by no means as common as you might think. It also didn’t hurt that we shared a love of leftfield Americana, English folk music and proper beer.

Robert Millar, first British holder of the Tour de France polka dot jersey.As I make my annual pilgrimage to the Pyrenees to pedal up the iconic cols, my pain and suffering is nothing compared to what he suffered in helping make continental cyclists finally take us seriously....and now we rule the cycling world.

Richard Thompson.As someone who has not yet given up on learning to play guitar, what better hero could a man have? He is also the best British songwriter since Ray Davies; quite simply a musical genius. 


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