The independent London newspaper

Building homes for local people on the old Holloway Prison site could set a precedent for London

09 November, 2017

• THE housing crisis has grown so acute that even the Tory minister responsible for housing, Sajid Javid, admits it.

The 19,000 people on Islington’s housing waiting list could have told him that long ago. But Sajid Javid is still reluctant to admit that the private sector cannot solve the problem on their own.

He is fighting against history. The Victorians first thought housing in cities could be left to the private sector and created the biggest slums in British history.

They then hoped that charities, the forerunners of today’s building societies, could solve the problem before finally giving in and allowing councils to build homes.

By the 1970s it looked as if homelessness would become a thing of the past but then came Margaret Thatcher and everything stopped.

In recent years councils like Islington have been struggling to find ways round the obstacles successive governments have put in the way to stop them building homes.

Some other councils have entered into ill-advised partnerships with developers that seem doomed to lead to fewer genuinely affordable homes being available but Islington has avoided these.

However the numbers of new homes are not enough to meet demand and Islington requires private developers to provide 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes on their sites.

The previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, overruled this on the Mount Pleasant site and allowed the developers to go ahead with only a token number.

But now we have local communities, a local council (and planning authority) and the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and his deputy mayor for housing, James Murray, all lined up on the same side.

Our opponents are formidable. The government wants as much cash as possible from the site and wants to sell it to developers for lots of luxury housing.

The developers have lots of lawyers and money looking for the slightest loophole in the council’s case. Once again it is people versus money.

At an event at St George’s Church in September we learned of the other fights for social housing going on across London. Others prisons, former hospitals, and other public sector land will be released for housing but their battles are not as far advanced as this one.

If the site of Holloway Prison becomes homes for local people at genuinely affordable rents it will set a precedent across London. This is why the former Holloway Prison site is so important.



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