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The independent London newspaper

Private sell-off deal for Pentonville land sparks fury

Property developers in line for Wellington Mews flats

16 April, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

THE Ministry of Justice is selling off public land to private developers, with campaigners warning the chance to build desperately needed social housing will be lost.

Two blocks made up of 28 flats next to Pentonville Prison – once used to house guards and their families – have stood empty for years and are now falling into disrepair.

Islington Council has made several bids to use it to house some of the 14,000 people on the waiting list.

But the MoJ has admitted it is in the final stages of agreeing a deal with developers LGP Wellington Mews Ltd to sell the flats.

The developers will only finalise the deal, however, if Islington Council grants a planning application that could excuse them providing 50 per cent of the homes on the site at affordable rates.

Campaigners from the Islington Homes for All (IHFA) group plan to protest outside the flats tomorrow (Saturday).

Morag Gillie, IHFA’s co-chairwoman, said: “We are furious that once again public land is being sold to private property developers and the potential to build vital homes for the 14,000 people on Islington’s waiting list is being lost. We must have a cast-iron promise that council homes will be part of the redevelopment.”

The developers want to secure a Certificate of Lawfulness for Existing Use or Development (CLEUD), which would allow them to refurbish and let the flats without seeking full planning permission.

A stand-off has ensued over this between council officers and LGP Wellington Mews Ltd.

In rejecting the developers first applications last year, it was argued that the blocks have always been “ancillary” to the prison and so a full planning application is needed to convert them into commercial properties.

The Town Hall was itself close to sealing a deal with the MoJ in 2019 to lease the buildings and use them for temporary accommodation for families on their waiting list as most of the units are three- or four-bedroom flats.
But the MoJ later put the site on the open market.

It is understood that the council put a bid in to buy the land, but this was also rejected.

Islington’s housing chief Labour councillor Diarmaid Ward said: “It’s clear the MoJ have faffed about with this for years and the homes are still empty.

“It is a crying shame they didn’t carry on with the arrangement in 2019 where we were very very close to getting the homes back into use for temporary accommodation for families in need.”

If the council reject the applications again and the deal between LGP Wellington Mews Ltd and the MoJ falls through, then the government department will be back to paying double council tax on the empty properties.

The Tribune contacted DP9, the consultancy firm representing LGP Wellington Mews Ltd, for a response several times and eventually a spokeswoman said they would not comment.

An MoJ spokesman said: “Last year, we agreed the sale of the property to a developer. The purchase is subject to the buyer being granted a certificate from Islington Council confirming that the premises can be used for Class C3 residential purposes.

“We will provide further updates in due course.”

The Tribune asked how much the developers were offering to buy the blocks in Wellington Mews, but the spokesman said the MoJ would not be adding to its statement.

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