Diarmaid Ward on Sotheby Mews closure: ‘Building council homes means hard choices’

'Save Sotheby Mews' campaigners dressed as skeletons on the town hall steps ahead of last night's fu

'Save Sotheby Mews' campaigners dressed as skeletons on the town hall steps ahead of last night's full Islington Council meeting. Picture: James Morris - Credit: Archant

Islington Council will not back away from its quest to build council homes on the Sotheby Mews Day Centre site.

As reported in the Gazette this week, housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward delayed the closure of the Highbury centre for older people by 12 months.

It gave campaigners hope they could stop the shutdown – which would see Sotheby users moved to a shared space at Highbury Roundhouse – for good.

Because more than 2,000 people signed a petition calling for Sotheby to be saved, Cllr Ward had to hold a debate on it at last night’s full council meeting.

But Cllr Ward (Lab, Holloway) made clear there are “hard choices” to make as the town hall looks to solve Islington’s housing crisis.

Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) has been a leader of the “Save Sotheby” campaign over the past 12 months.

In an impassioned speech, she said: “With an aging population and the challenges that poses, I would have thought that Islington Council would be trying to expand activity for older people at Sotheby Mews rather than curtail it.

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“They may even be keeping a seat warm for when Cllr Ward finds himself in need of such a facility. We’ll all need it one day and I sincerely hope that Sotheby Mews is still going strong when I reach that point.”

But Cllr Ward, who met Sotheby users on Monday, responded: “This council has got a clear mandate to deliver council homes. This year alone, we’re on course to build 140, the most in the borough for 30 years. There are hard choices along the way.”

He then picked up a copy of the Gazette, pointing to editor Ramzy Alwakeel’s column which, while backing the Sotheby campaign, also called for clearer housing policy from Cllr Russell’s Green Party.

Waving the paper in Cllr Russell’s direction, Cllr Ward asked: “I will go back to Ramzy’s Islington Gazette editorial. What we all want to know is: where do the Greens believe will be more appropriate for social housing?”

The council’s plans for the Sotheby site are sketchy. The scheme was announced 12 months ago, but when asked this week how many homes it plans to build on the site, a town hall spokesman could not give a number.