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Passing the buck on empty homes is not on

29 May, 2020

Empty Pentonville prison flats from Roman way

• THAT “Islington has the seventh highest number [of empty homes, around 4,000] of all 32 London boroughs” is bad enough but even that statistic doesn’t include the more than 100 former Pentonville prison officer flats empty for over 25 years, some of them visible from Roman Way, (We need action on empty homes and to protect the homeless, Letters, May 15).

The town hall and Islington South & Finsbury MP try to pass the buck for this obscene state of affairs to the Labour-created Ministry of Justice, which now oversees the “prison estate”.

The brownfield site is currently “unavailable” for the council to develop, they opine, being under the control of a central government of different political persuasion.

Note: that hasn’t stopped them negotiating the sale and development of the relatively recently vacated Holloway Prison site.

It wasn’t always this way. Emily Thornberry was first elected to the House of Commons in 2005, several years after the properties in her constituency were abandoned, and when the Labour home office had jurisdiction over the site.

This matters.

Having set itself a target of building 550 new social homes by 2022 (it’s unclear whether it met its previous goal of 500 homes by 2019) the council has given itself permission for 27 of these to be built on Highbury Corner’s Dixon Clark Court (DCC) estate.

But according to council leader, Richard Watts and housing boss, Diarmaid Ward, alongside St Mary’s ward councillors, in order to pay for these, a stand-alone block of 14 leaseholder-owned properties is needed.

Where precisely will this exclusive accommodation be?

On the site of the estate’s “little forest” of seven mature trees. These can be seen in the foreground of the picture taken from the seventh floor of the DCC tower (below).

The photographs scream for themselves “This won’t do”.

In a BBC2 interview with Victoria Derbyshire in February, when she was still hoping to become Labour leader, Emily Thornberry was bullish: “We’ve got people sleeping on the streets, we’ve got homeless families in bed and breakfasts. It’s not right… If you leave a flat empty and you’re not using it then you will lose it”.

She was speaking, then, about the national housing picture, of course. Now she’s free to concentrate on her own patch, it would be good to hear from her, particularly as just days ago she commented that “The people of Islington South & Finsbury can always be relied on to say it as it is”.

MEG HOWARTH
N7

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