The future of a planned Women’s Building as part of the redevelopment of the Holloway prison site continues to be the subject of heated debate.
Independent campaigners Community Plan for Holloway (CP4H) have accused housing association Peabody of “backtracking” on a commitment to construct a standalone women’s services facility as part of its scheme.
Peabody claims that it has always been clear from council planning policy that a separate structure was never on the cards.
Both sides are referring to Islington’s planning guidance, with Peabody pointing to a supplementary document that refers to the Women’s Building “as part of a wider building”.
CP4H argues that the Town Hall has noted the lack of a home for anti-violence or other women-oriented services and has said that it is “keen to see a suitably sized building that can accommodate these facilities”.
Sophie Benedict, a forensic psychotherapist who used to work in the prison, said: “Peabody has consistently used the term ‘Women’s Building’ but it’s clear they never meant to build one. Instead they’ve intended all along to provide no more than a single floor in a tower block.
“Women’s safety and rights are in the spotlight after the murder of Sarah Everard, and the government is planning to create 500 more prison places for women.
“Yet Peabody is saying that a Women’s Building, with unique services and activities to transform society, is not worth talking about.”
Campaigners say the “paramount issue” with the proposed building is the space allocated for it, with CP4H calling for more than a single-floor design offering 1,200 square metres.
The group has also questioned how a standalone building would result in a loss of homes from the site when a feasibility study has not yet been carried out.
It wants a building which is “safe, of striking design, and big enough to house a range of services and activities for women – a fitting legacy for the thousands incarcerated during Holloway prison’s 160-year history”.
The Town Hall has made clear that it is unable to dictate what Peabody proposes, with guidance about what its planning department is “likely to find acceptable” set out as part of a Supplementary Planning Document.
A council spokesperson added: “Holloway Prison is a site of enormous significance for Islington. When the site was first put up for sale the council campaigned hard to ensure that the site would be used to benefit the community, including as many much-needed, genuinely affordable homes as possible, and a Women’s Building to help replace some of the important services supporting vulnerable women that were lost when the prison closed.”
They added: “Thanks to a recent injection of funds from the Mayor of London, the site’s developer, Peabody, has guaranteed 42 per cent of the homes will be for social rent, which is great news for local families. The GLA’s initial grant of funds also made clear that a Women’s Building must be provided.
“The council has developed a draft brief for the Women’s Building and shared it with Peabody to inform their planning application.
“The draft was produced after extensive, in-depth consultation with local groups and a large number of women’s organisations that provide a range of important services for women, including women in the criminal justice system.”
A Peabody spokesperson said: “We have been discussing the Women’s Building and the wider scheme at Holloway in regular meetings with CP4H and others for a considerable period of time.
“The group knows that the council’s planning policy never intended the Women’s Building to be a standalone building. They also know that the size of the planned building has already increased by 50 per cent to be one of the biggest community-focused facilities in the borough.
“Our plans for the former Holloway prison site should be a positive thing for the area. We want to create a great place to live, with new open space and hundreds of social rented homes for people on the council’s waiting list.”