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From Holloway to housing

Call for council homes to be built on former prison site

Many a woman peace activist has been incarcerated in Holloway Prison. There have been many poor women imprisoned there, some jailed for non-payment of fines (being fined for not having a TV licence was once a speciality of the British judicial system). Holloway saw the suffragettes force-fed and Ruth Ellis hanged. Then there are the women who were imprisoned after killing an abusive partner, and the long list of women who were neglected by prison staff and died there.

Activists and local people had mixed feelings when they heard the news in 2016 that the prison was to be shut down and the inmates sent to other prisons around the country. This has made prison visits difficult and expensive for families living in the capital.

The government is planning to sell the land to fund the building of new prisons outside London.

The site occupies 10 acres of publicly-owned land. Islington council has a housing waiting list of 18,000. This would be the perfect opportunity to reduce the waiting list and provide new facilities for the local community. But the suspicion is that the site may be a prime location for yet more expensive flats.

A brochure produced to aid the sale of the land states that the site has ‘the potential to deliver a significant residential development of perhaps over 1,000 apartments’. However a feasibility study commissioned by Islington council suggested no more than 880 homes would be possible.

So the council (47 Labour, 1 Green), local people, organisations and women in the criminal justice system, plus some London assembly members, are campaigning for the site to be used for council homes, a women’s centre and community facilities, and to increase the small amount of green space in Islington.

In response to a petition, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has written to David Liddington MP, lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice, stating his concerns that the site could end up being ‘land banked’ for a period, or traded to another party, rather than being developed rapidly for much-needed new homes. The mayor has been working with the council on a plan which sets a clear expectation of at least 50 percent affordable housing.

Other London projects

At a community open day in September, Islington campaigners met others from other parts of London.

In Tottenham, the St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust (StART), a community land trust, is seeking to acquire and redevelop two-thirds of the St Ann’s hospital site, being sold by Barnet, Enfield & Haringey Mental Health Trust. The site was due to be sold for private housing development, with only 14 percent of the homes classed as ‘affordable’.

StART instructed architects to prepare initial plans based on a community survey and a series of consultation events. The group are now in a position to persuade the greater London authority that they (the GLA) should buy the site and work with StART to develop it. The plans include shops and businesses (no Tesco or Sainsbury’s!), community rooms and 75 percent rental properties. Buy-to-let sales would be banned.

In Newham, PEACH (People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House) aims to empower the community in the Custom House area of the borough, by supporting people and building strength as a community, and enabling people to have say over decisions which affecting them.

More info on the history of Holloway Prison: www.womeninprison.org.uk; www.hollowayprisonstories.com. Planning for affordable housing on the Holloway site:
www.plan4holloway.org/survey; www.facebook.com/reclaimholloway. StART (the film is well worth a watch): www.startharingey.co.uk. PEACH in Newham:
www.peach-e16.org.uk. The national Community Land Trusts Network has a list of CLTs around the country and can help to get new CLTs off the ground:
www.communitylandtrusts.org.uk

Claire Poyner is the PN admin worker.

Topics: Housing