Anger over Holloway Prison site plans

Councillors tell developers Peabody to come back with answers to concerns

Friday, 18th February — By Charlotte Chambers

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Protesters outside the Town Hall last Thursday

A MARATHON four-hour council meeting to decide the future of the Holloway Prison site ended in more delays for developers after planning chiefs told them to go back to the drawing board on a number of key issues.

Eleven objectors and opposition groups spoke out against the scheme at a planning meeting last Thursday, before councillors unanimously voted to defer the decision on whether to grant building permission.

Peabody has been accused of overdevelopment at the site with plans to construct 1,000 new homes. It has also faced criticism over a refusal to kit out a new women’s centre – which campaigners want to be included as a landmark legacy of the prison’s history.

Labour councillor Jenny Kay told the meeting: “Are they [Peabody] actually interested in community? To me it feels like a private development with all the bells and whistles that a private development normally has and none of those extras that think about how you can bring people together.”

She was concerned that no designated community centre had been planned into design.

The cost of the women’s centre is a sore point: Peabody says it will not pay costs of around £3million to get it up and running, and instead will provide only the shell of the building.

The housing provider said it was already running a deficit on the project.

Cllr Kay said it felt like “we’re being a little bit blackmailed” and that she believed the price of the private housing would help Peabody recover any losses.

Councillor Bashir Ibrahim described feeling “shocked” at the revelation that more than nine out of the ten homes facing busy Camden Road and Parkhurst Road will be part of the “affordable” rents offer. Private sales will be set back.

Councillor Paul Convery, meanwhile, said his experience as a long-time planning committee member had left him with the sense that this scheme had “a lot of loose ends”.

Councillors said they want to see blocks with a mix of private and social housing tenants, rather than segregation.

An artist’s impression of how the site will look

In a deputation to the meeting, building engineer Jonathan Ward, who lives in Holloway and is objecting to the scheme, said: “[The scheme is] going to deliver 415 super badly needed homes in Islington and its a travesty that they’re going to be such poor quality.

“When you talk about 5 to 10 per cent of people are going to have substandard [homes], that’s a lot of windows that are not getting minimum daylight.”

Under current plans, more than half the rooms in each of the five housing blocks would be in relative darkness, he said.

Mr Ward, who has sat on Islington’s building and planning advice panels for developers looking for tips on how to get their developments passed, asked: “Is it fair that our most needy will be given homes like this? How could members of the committee be prepared to approve social housing that needs air con, has poor views, substandard daylight and sunlight and are the most polluted and noisy space?”

He also warned that the height of some of the buildings – some of which are 50 metres high, or as tall as Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square – “busts through” the council’s own policy on tall buildings by six storeys.

Concerns about the size of the Women’s Building were also raised, with objectors calling for it to be housed in its own separate building and given more space to offer “like for like” provisions that were available at the prison before its closure in 2016.

Peabody Homes, which has existed almost as long as Holloway prison which was built in 1872, already have 6,000 homes in the borough and are due to be the freeholders to the new development.

“We are here for the long term, not the short term,” Peabody’s Dick Mortimer said, while Tom Williamson, the site’s project director, described the site as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for Islington to add a “legacy estate” to its clutch of Peabody homes.

He listed other notable homes it had built through the ages, including the 19th-century Clerkenwell estate and the Grade II-listed Islington estate in Essex Road, designed by renowned Peabody architect Henry Darbishire, who also designed Holly Lodge in Highgate.

He defended the density of the scheme, as well as the height of the tallest towers, and said they were fighting for neighbouring estates and the public to get better access to the 1.4-acre public park.

He told the committee: “You’ve heard for various reasons the new homes are not good enough. Based on our extensive experience of creating communities we feel ­passionately that the ­proposals are of the highest quality.”

Peabody have been asked to respond to concerns at the next meeting on March 8.

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