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Readers' Letters

Readers' Letters

Gazette letters: Pentonville’s empty flats and Brexit

PUBLISHED: 08:30 09 February 2019

Empty flats at the back of Pentonville Prison. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

Empty flats at the back of Pentonville Prison. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

Archant

I presume Meg Howarth (Gazette) means Wellington Mews? writes Barry Edwards, Islington Labour councillor (2006-2014), full address supplied.

I was elected as a Labour councillor in 2006, part way through the 11 years (not six) that the Liberal Democrats controlled Islington Council.

Wellington Mews was highlighted to me in 2011 and, knowing my interest in social housing, I visited them and found, as I recall, two blocks totalling 29 large, four-bedroomed flats of which about six were occupied and in need of external works.

Working with the council’s officer for new housing I discovered they were prison staff quarters but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was not continuing to let them out. The MoJ was also not interested in leasing them to Islington Council, citing “security concerns”. They are next to the prison wall but no closer than the flats of the Caledonian Estate, and elsewhere the wall directly abuts public roads. It seemed to me that the main use was of the flats’ courtyard as a prison staff car park. I believe that both former cllr James Murray and cllr Diarmaid Ward have had further requests for the flats turned down.

Both here and at Holloway Prison the MoJ remain intransigent and uncaring about the needs of the local community. I understand Michael Gove’s plans to sell off London prisons are currently under review. Is the MoJ waiting for when the whole of Pentonville (the oldest prison in use) and Wellington Mews can be sold for redevelopment as luxury homes?

Am I alone in being appalled at the shameless attempt by Theresa May’s government to buy the votes of certain Labour MPs representing Brexit supporting constituencies by offering extra investment funds in the areas they represent? writes Paul Elliott, Islington Green Party.

Theresa May has already used our tax monies to buy the support of the DUP for her failing government. The cynicism of these actions is breathtaking.

The offer to the Labour MPs begs two questions. If it is right that the former coal-mining areas in the north need extra investment, shouldn’t the government have granted this a long time ago instead of waiting to try to bribe their representatives over Brexit? Secondly, who is to say that the problems in these areas are more damaging to the immediate social order than, say, gang violence and knife crime in non-Brexit voting areas like Islington?

There is something seriously wrong with a situation where, through an extended regime of austerity, a government has starved all regions of the country of funds for essential services and infrastructure investment, thereby making their representatives biddable with the offer of scarce governmental funds.

If Brexit has taught us nothing else, it has shown that the British public no longer trusts or respects its governing classes. The realpolitik currently being transacted by prime minister May’s government shows us why this is the case.

The time has come for us to look again at the British electoral system. As a remain voter I feel totally excluded from the Brexit debate and thereby alienated from the political process. The first past the post electoral system has left us with an unrepresentative parliament, where the opinion of nearly half of the electorate is not properly represented and corrupt side deals are being done to force through unpopular policies.

Never has the case for proportional representation looked stronger.

I was born, and still live, at the back of Pentonville Prison, Roman Way, writes Jean Willson, full address supplied.

Almost every day I walk past a block of flats that have remained empty for more than 25 years. These flats, adjacent to the prison, were designed to house prison wardens.

Five years ago I started a campaign to get something done about this shocking scandal. I wrote to the chair of Islington’s housing committee, Diarmaid Ward, about this disgraceful state of affairs that these flats, some with three-four bedrooms, were vacant in Islington and could be used for homes for homeless Islington families.

I also wrote to the minister of justice to be told that “due to a change in policy to no longer provide quarters for staff, these have not been re-let” and “security concerns were prohibitive in agreeing a way forward.”

For many years now there have been discussions about whether Pentonville Prison should close.

We, local people, listen and hear again and again that no decision has been made even though the prison has been declared “unfit for purpose”.

Cllr Ward and I went around the two blocks of flats and were shocked and appalled at the negligence and waste of such valuable housing stock. Even more shocking was a huge vacant car park.

We arranged to meet up with officers of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in 2018, the day after the government issued a directive “that no prison would close until they had a national review.”

The MoJ went on to tell us that the future of Pentonville was still under discussion. However, they did agree to meet up with Islington Council officers who put forward a proposal to convert the empty flats into short term lets, to ease the critical housing shortage in the borough.

But after all the campaigning and even though Islington Council is still keen to renovate the flats and use them for Islington people the MoJ has turned us down.

Islington is still in the midst of a housing crisis, yet still the Ministry of Justice deny us. Shame on you MoJ to let these very precious flats lie vacant whilst Islington people are living in dire conditions, in hostels or are homeless.

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