Campaigners insist: 'We can stop Holloway Prison becoming expensive luxury flats'
PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:00 06 July 2017
When George Osborne announced the closure of Holloway Prison a year ago, many people darkly muttered three words: 'Expensive luxury flats.' But it doesn't have to be this way, community campaigners told James Morris.
Holloway Prison is a lonely place these days. Since it was vacated in the summer, only two security guards remain. They haven’t had any problems with intruders – yet.
All official prison signage has gone. On a tour around the site on Monday, we make do with “DOING TIME IN HOLLOWAY” scrawled on a cell wall. Someone has attempted to paint over it, but it only makes the graffiti clearer.
What is surprising about the site, in Parkhurst Road, is its sheer scale beyond the outer walls. Green space and shubbery is surrounded by towering prison wings.
It’s the size of an entire university campus, and therefore prime land for dreaded expensive flats.
In August, agent Bilfinger GVA won a Ministry of Justice contract to advise on the sale of the site, formerly the largest women’s prison in Europe.
“We’re obviously very concerned that private developers will end up building unaffordable luxury flats,” Will McMahon says. “It’s exactly what people in Islington don’t need.”
But he says it doesn’t have to be this way. Will is deputy director of charity Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, which is campaigning for a “people’s plan” to develop the site.
“We also know the community has a real interest in how this prison is developed. So what we’re looking at doing is a community-led approach. They may want affordable housing, but may want community facilities; they may want green space.”
It is why, on Tuesday, he booked out Williamson Street Community Centre for a public meeting on November 25 (6pm to 8pm). Islington North MP and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is scheduled to attend. Will sees it as the beginning of a process for the Islington community to “put forward what it wants”.
He adds: “Of course, the government may ignore it, but redevelopment of this site doesn’t have to be a political issue. It should listen to what is wanted by the community.
“The development of the former Territorial Army site [near the prison] took two-and-a-half years. Holloway Prison still has to be sold, and Islington Council will be involved in making a decision under the planning process.
“I think all that will take a couple of years, and I believe that’s enough time for the community to get its message across loud and clear.”
He will be joined on his campaign by Sian Berry, one of 15 assembly members who hold Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to account.
Assessing the site, Ms Berry – this year’s Green Party mayoral candidate – says: “There’s so much space. When you consider the prison housed 600 women, you could easily build social housing for that many people.
“We have key workers – such as nurses, police, teachers, ambulance staff – who can’t afford to live in London. We could provide more affordable housing for them.
“Also, Islington has almost no green space. This site would be ideal to create a bit more.”
Ms Berry, who will chair the London Assembly’s housing committee from next year, adds: “This is too good an opportunity to miss.
“We can’t just hand this site over to the developers who bid the highest price. London has so many expensive flats at the moment. What good would it be?”