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‘Council homes are needed – not luxury flats’

Pentonville Prison site campaigners take protest to Ministry of Justice

10 September, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

The demonstration on Tuesday

CAMPAIGNERS protested outside the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) this week demanding empty housing on the Pentonville Prison site be made available to people on the council waiting list.

Demonstrators were in Petty France Street, off Whitehall, on Tuesday as they stepped up the fight against plans to redevelop the site with no social housing.

In 2019, Islington Council had negotiated with the MoJ to lease the blocks – mostly three-to four-bedroom homes – but the deal fell through. There are currently around 14,000 people waiting for a council home in Islington.

Islington Homes for All activist Andy Bain said: “We are here to point out to the Ministry of Justice that there is a huge shortage of housing in Islington. Their proposals will mean these properties will be developed into luxury flats and that is not what Islington needs.

“There is only 29 but that’s 29 families. They need it.”

The flats in Wellington Mews

Council planners have, since the deal with the MoJ fell through, rejected “certificates of lawfulness” application from a developer, LGP Wellington Mews Ltd, that would have paved the way for the site to be demolished and rebuilt without full planning permission.

The protesters say any redevelopment should include 50 per cent of homes at affordable rates.

Islington Homes For All co-chair Morag Gillie said: “This is the second time we have been here outside the Ministry of Justice. The first time was when they sold off the public land on the old Holloway Prison site.

“What we are really concerned about is the housing minister Robert Jenrick is really concerned with house buying, and for us most people don’t have that aspiration – they just want a safe and secure home to live in. “The only way to provide that is council housing.

“It is utterly disgraceful the MOJ have reneged on their promise to hand over the lease of the 29, three- or four bedroom ex-warden flats. They could have been refurbished. They have been lying empty for years and years. We have got the full support of local councillors.”

Islington’s housing chief, Councillor Diarmaid Ward, said: “The offer is on the table. We came to a decent agreement in 2019. We would use the flats to house families in desperate need. “I think it is important the residents of Islington show their anger and frustration that the Ministry of Justice has left them empty all these years. “I hope they express their anger and also express hope the MoJ do the right thing and put these flats back into use.”

The Ministry of Justice said it agreed to the sale of the property to a developer last year and the purchase is subject to the buyer being granted a certificate from Islington Council confirming the premises can be used for Class C3 residential purposes. It added that the sale price is commercially sensitive and confidential.

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