Election candidates at odds over future of Holloway Prison site
Parties unite behind pledge to use land for council homes, but Conservatives warn that would mean taking cash from prisons budget
20 April, 2018 — By Samantha Booth
Conservative candidate Mick Collins speaking at the Town Hall hustings event – which was chaired by Tribune editor Eric Gordon – alongside council leader Richard Watts
ELECTION hopefuls are at odds over what should happen to the former Holloway Prison amid a campaign to ensure the site stays in public hands.
At a council election hustings attended by more than 100 people at the Town Hall last Thursday, Conservative candidate Mick Collins said the Ministry of Justice should be able to use the site in Camden Road to lever in funding for legal aid and other prisons.
Mr Collins, who is standing in Bunhill ward for the Tories on May 3, said: “Unfortunately, the subject of Holloway Prison is not as simple as public or private. That site is owned by the MoJ so a sale will go into the budget for the MoJ. That means the prisons budget and the legal aid budget.”
He added: “So, when people are calling for that site to be given to the council for council housing, what you are effectively asking for is for a cut in the MoJ budget, a cut in the amount of funds to prisons and legal aid and for that money to be transferred to a council budget.”
Rod Gonggrijp, Green Party candidate for St George’s ward
His comments drew heckles at the event, organised by 12 community groups and chaired by Tribune editor Eric Gordon.
The issue is a hot topic, with the MoJ currently deciding on a successful bidder for the site of the women’s prison, which closed in 2016.
It is expected to make an announcement in the coming months.
Andy Bain, chairman of Islington Homes for All – Axe the Act, asked the parties to pledge to keep the land in public ownership and for it to have 70 per cent council housing. If the site falls into private hands, he said, there should be at least 35 per cent council housing, as well as green space.
The Town Hall’s planning guidance demands that at least half of the housing on the site should be “genuinely affordable”.
Ilana Lever, Liberal Democrat candidate for St Mary’s ward
Labour council leader Richard Watts said: “I think you can sign us up to all of those pledges. It depends what you mean by ‘significant’ when you talk about significant green space. I’m really clear our priority for that site is genuinely affordable housing and you can’t have two top priorities.”
He added: “There will be green space on that site. There will be a women’s centre, but there has to be genuinely affordable housing.”
Rod Gonggrijp, Green Party candidate for St George’s ward, supported calls for the prison land to stay in the public sector.
He added: “We think the Labour council has made very, very little effort to keep the land in the public sector. This is not something that I think can be a pledge from Labour.
“If it is sold off to the private sector, the Green Party has asked for 50 per cent social housing.”
Nikki Uppal, the borough’s first Women’s Equality Party candidate
Ilana Lever, Liberal Democrat candidate for St Mary’s ward, agreed with the pledges, but added: “For us it’s very important this site has a heritage for families.
“We are committing that 65 per cent of properties built are for family occupancy and that is incredibly important for us.”
The borough’s first Women’s Equality Party candidate, Nikki Uppal, was not included in the panel but took part in the debate from the floor.
Speaking on gender disparity, Ms Uppal, who is standing in Hillrise ward, said: “I know gender is part of the solution to the issues [the community groups] represent. Whether it’s housing, where the idea of affordable housing is different for women who earn less. Where homelessness is hidden for women. We need new ways of thinking about the challenges and that’s the only way we can move forward.”