Housing plans must change with the times

Hats off to historian David Starkey for his short piece filmed in Islington and broadcast on BBC’s This Week last Thursday evening.

While his message was in support of the Government’s hopeful and long overdue changes in housing benefit, the choice of Barnsbury Square as the backdrop was symbolic for the national viewership but particularly poignant for Islington’s socialist councils – be they Labour or Liberal Democrat.

For it was at the very square that some 20 years ago that entrepreneur Robin Hodges and his wife Sue single-handedly started the gentrification by purchasing derelict factory buildings that would never again hear the whirl of industrial-age machinery.

They converted 1930s Mica House into iconic flats, including the most valuable penthouse in Islington, complete with its own glass swimming pool.

And it is here, as a backdrop to Dr Starkey’s film where the remaining factory building blights the beautiful square, that three years ago the Hodges continued their virtual campaign of modernisation against the Islington hammer-and-sickle flag wavers.

The Hodges fought indefatigably and costly – investing in award-winning architects and hiring the top guns from the same planners and legal team used by Arsenal in its planning battles. After a weeks-long planning inquiry and then a High Court challenge,the Hodges prevailed with their vision of not being forced to include social housing in their proposed “Hodges House”, a development of 10 very large private market flats for the families of those who are sufficiently hard-working and successful to deserve such surroundings.

Iconoclastic visionaries such as Dr Starkey and Mr Hodges are in short supply in Islington. The world has changed, and now at last so is the country. Will Islington move with the times, or be left behind to decay under the outdated social infrastructure, much like these outdated factory buildings? – Name and address supplied, N1.