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Social housing campaigners call out Sadiq Khan in battle for Holloway Prison site

PUBLISHED: 13:55 05 March 2018 | UPDATED: 14:15 05 March 2018

Holloway Prison pictured in the late 1990s while still a functioning jail. Picture: Rebecca Naden

Holloway Prison pictured in the late 1990s while still a functioning jail. Picture: Rebecca Naden

PA Archive/PA Images

“It’s pretty clear we don’t want a development unaffordable to local people.” Will McMahon, who is leading the Community Plan for Holloway campaign, spoke before the latest meeting to discuss the Holloway Prison campaign had actually kicked off. But it was a safe assumption to make.

Campaigners in May 2016, shortly before Holloway Prison closed, demanding council housing and community facilities. Picture: Ken MearsCampaigners in May 2016, shortly before Holloway Prison closed, demanding council housing and community facilities. Picture: Ken Mears

The Ministry of Justice is set to announce its preferred bidder for the site this spring. Friday’s meeting was at St George’s and All Saints Church in Crayford Road, a short walk from the prison site. It was designed to keep the focus on a community-led development.

And Glyn Robbins, a social housing campaigner who manages the Quaker Court Estate off Old Street, did just that when he called out the mayor of London.

Mr Robbins received a rapturous applause when he said: “We have lessons to learn. First, you can’t trust private developers. Second, housing associations are virtually indistinguishable from private developers.

“And third, we can’t rely on the planning system. The person who should be behind this is Sadiq Khan. He’s got the money: a £3billion housing budget. We have written to him and demanded he bids for this site. It’s not too late.” Mr Khan did not bid for the site by the November deadline despite a 5,000-strong petition last year urging him to do so.

“We need to increase the pressure on mayor Khan for the people of Islington. We must return ownership of the site and build decent, secure, safe homes for the people of Islington.”

The church’s vicar, Rev Alexandra Lilley, pointed to Islington Council’s housing waiting list of 18,000 people and said: “It has to be a priority for those currently in need, and not those who already have it.

“It would be crazy if that place did not fulfil at least a fraction of that number. It has to be a site where genuine communities can grow and thrive.”

The passionate meeting, in which one campaigner suggested sitting in front of the bulldozers if the site is sold to a private developer, also heard plans for a women’s building to create a positive legacy out of the site’s history as a women’s prison. The ambitious plans include a women’s library, counselling centre, studio hire and a 50m swimming pool in the basement.

To have your say on the campaign, visit plan4holloway.org.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks at the Community Plan for Holloway meeting at St George's and All Saints Church on Friday. Picture: James MorrisJeremy Corbyn speaks at the Community Plan for Holloway meeting at St George's and All Saints Church on Friday. Picture: James Morris

Corbyn: ‘If we don’t win, the area will be socially cleansed’

Despite an early train to the Midlands on Saturday, Islington North MP and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was happy to spend his Friday night on the meeting’s panel.

“The site is the biggest and best opportunity we will ever get in this borough,” he said in his speech to close the meeting.

“It’s an opportunity for good local housing, a women’s centre, open space – it’s a substantial site.

“We will win this if we campaign together and put the pressure on. We live in a wonderful city, but also one of enormous pressure and tensions.

“If we don’t change tack on housing priorities, the local area will be socially cleansed. Winning the argument will give us the opportunity to get good quality housing for the people that need it.”

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