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‘Together we can develop a vision for living’

After the Mount Pleasant fiasco, a new test of housing policy awaits at the former Holloway Prison site. Andy Bain argues that this time the community must unite against the might of developers

17 February, 2017 — By Andy Bain

Holloway Prison site, ‘an opportunity to set housing policy in the direction people need’

MOST people living in Islington suffer from escalating house prices, whether renting or buying, which are now likely to be made worse by the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

Young people can’t afford to move out to buy, or in many cases to rent, and there are almost no council houses. They have difficult choices: to stay with parents, move miles out from Islington or live in crowded conditions, possibly with strangers.

It does not have to be like this and, with the huge area comprising Holloway prison and the adjacent estate which used to house prison workers, there is the opportunity to set housing policy in the direction that people need and want.

But before we consider how we could do this let’s quickly remember how it was done wrong. In 2015, Royal Mail, which owns the Mount Pleasant site in Clerkenwell, was privatised and sold to shareholders for less than £1bn – its true value – so taxpayers lost out.

Two years earlier, developers battled with Islington Council over the percentage of “affordable” houses at Mount Pleasant, the council wanting 50 per cent, but the final plan, after intervention by the developers’ friend, ex-mayor Boris Johnson, was for 23 per cent “affordable” housing.

Andy Bain

The scheme would still have been profitable with 50 per cent of the 700 or so proposed homes as “affordable”, but the choice favoured big developers, not ordinary people. Royal Mail is now selling the formerly publicly-owned site to a private developer.

However, it is even worse than the above figures suggest as “affordable”, which is not defined by the Tory government, is considered by housing professionals to require a household income of between £60,000 and £90,000 a year, far more than most people in Islington earn.

The new planning laws shift even more powers from elected councils to developers but the timing of the Holloway development could well prove to be a test case of what could be an unpopular, anti-democratic imposition by government and developers. This site is of a similar scale to Mount Pleasant.

The possibility of a popular outcome is made more likely by the two-year consultation project, A Community Plan for Holloway (www.plan4holloway.org.uk), which already has the support of several community-based organisations.

This project will work with the community to develop a vision for living in this large site and will use its resources to build a level of democratic expectation and coordinate local wishes.

Consultation has already started and you will hear lots more over the months ahead. Individuals and especially organisations, from youth and pensioner clubs to cultural bodies, women and ethnic organisations, business and trade unions and political parties, will all be invited to get involved.

The first practical steps in the consultation involve the modern visitors’ centre beside Holloway Prison. At noon tomorrow (Saturday) there will be a rally there to campaign to open up this publicly-owned facility for the benefit of local people, rather than leaving it closed, possibly for several years.

It could be used as a pensioners’ club, youth club, community café or meeting venue. Do get involved in tomorrow’s rally and the ongoing consultation and have your say. We could change the future for the better!

•  Andy Bain is chairman of Islington Axe the Housing Act.

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