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ISHA won't demolish any buildings on St Mary's Path Estate after neighbours reject bulldozers in consultation

PUBLISHED: 12:41 19 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:34 20 September 2019

The St Mary's Path Estate with Upper Street in the bottom left-hand corner. Picture: Google StreetView

The St Mary's Path Estate with Upper Street in the bottom left-hand corner. Picture: Google StreetView

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Neighbours have rejected a proposal to bulldoze a building in St Mary's Path Estate by a commanding two-to-one majority - and their housing association has now completely ruled out demolition.

Neighbours have rejected a proposal to bulldoze a building in St Mary's Path Estate by a commanding two-to-one majority - and their housing association has now completely ruled out demolition.

Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA) suggested knocking down the St Mary's House building on the historic Upper Street estate and rebuilding it with bigger flats and two additional homes, or just refurbishing all the blocks in the estate.

The consultation was held in May and June and members of the St Mary's Path Estate Tenants and Residents Association attended the ISHA board meeting on Tuesday evening, where it became clear neighbours had outright rejected demolition but were also unsold on the renovation proposals.

ISHA's chief exec Ruth Davison today told the Gazette: "I was really clear that what I wanted was people's view about the proposals we were putting to them and genuinely wanted people to feel they could feed back without fear of favour [an independent firm was appointed to run the consultation]. It's their homes and there community and I know, even before I started, that the board at ISHA was motivated with trying to improve the fabric of the buildings for the better and also make an effort with new homes with improved space standards.

"Residents have said two-to-one that they don't want any demolition on the estate and genuinely I don't want to do something that's against the majority on the estate - loud and clear, there won't be any demolition on the estate."

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This draws a line under a saga that started in 2017, before Ms Davison's tenure, when ISHA touted five options to address the damp-riddled estate, including complete demolition. A concerted campaign by neighbours fearful their community would be fragmented and displaced led ISHA to claim bulldozing St Mary's Path was off the table in June 2018, but it did say regeneration could mean removing some of the three- and four- bed flats. Then this year, after Ms Davison's appointment, the two options - one of which did include demolition of St Mary's House after all - were put forward.

In the more recent consultation, Ms Davison sought to assuage fears through a serious of commitments such as no rent hikes, a right of return for all neighbours on the estate and the option that everyone who wanted to could remain on site during works.

In June, in response to the suggestion St Mary's House be levelled, TRA chair Nico Christian said it was "shocking ISHA have reneged on their promise to rule out demolition as part of the development".

This week he said: "It is a great victory and relief for all of us after a sustained campaign in the last few months. ISHA had not made the case for demolition at all and we think their proposal to demolish a sound block on the estate should never have been put back on the table. The plans were very sketchy, the impact of demolition on the community had not been taken into account and alternatives to demolition had not been considered. Social housing needs to be preserved and refurbished, not demolished. As we argued in our petition, refurbishment is by far less disruptive, more sustainable, cost-effective and respectful to residents. The petition was signed by over 600 people, which shows that it was not only residents but also the local community who thought their demolition proposal did not make sense.

"We're now really pleased that ISHA's board listened to residents and decided to do the right thing. We commend them on their decision and we would urge other housing associations and Councils to follow suit.

"As a TRA, we have also been campaigning for an improved offer of refurbishment, so it is positive that ISHA have said they want to work with residents on new plans for investment in the estate. We know that our campaign is not over though. Residents wishes need to be heard and many of us would like to be able to stay in our flats during refurbishment works, or at least come back afterwards. They're not just flats, these are our homes"

In a letter sent to all neighbours today Ms Davison said that while there was "some positive feedback" for the estate-wide refurbishment plans, there was also "no great excitement for them". She's now calling on the TRA and neighbours to engage in planning with ISHA so a balance can be struck between work it needs to do to ensure the flats are safe and sustainable, versus what works people want done.

Ms Davison, who personally thought knocking down St Mary's House might be a better option, added: "I think the estate is beautiful but I said to my board colleagues I was chastened when I walked around a development recently and cupboards were nearly as big as the bathrooms on St Mary's Path, and I wanted to build social homes and improve space standards. But for one reason or another people don't want that and I respect their wishes. We are passionate and committed to building new social homes in the borough - it just won't be in St Mary's Path."

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