‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ revamp of former women’s prison in ‘real danger’ as councillors and residents criticise plans

Artist’s impression of a new park at the site

A decision over a “once-in-a-lifetime” development of 1,000 new homes on the Holloway prison site has been deferred over concerns about the mix of housing and facilities and the future of a women’s centre.

Councillors on Islington’s planning committee wanted more details about how the multi-million pound plans would be “tenure-blind” .

Housing association Peabody wants to knock down the 164-year-old Victorian prison and replace it with 985 homes and offices in 15 buildings up to 14 storeys high, as well as two parks.

The scheme includes five blocks of homes – 60 per cent of which are affordable affordable – and homes for people needing extra care.

There would also be a women’s building designed to reflect the site’s history, offering rehabilitation services for women with experience of the criminal justice system and also community use for women who live nearby.

However, Peabody said it cannot afford the £2.9m needed to fit out the women’s centre without getting funds from elsewhere, as the scheme has a deficit. Councillors are concerned that Peabody will deliver a “shell”.

Community Plan for Holloway said: “Legacy and women’s history should have been at the heart of this development, not applied as an afterthought.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for women and for the capital, which is in real danger of being missed.”

The group feels it should have more space rather than just one floor.

Peabody said it was twice the size of the prison’s education block.

Holloway was the largest women’s prison in Europe and high-profile inmates included Ruth Ellis, who was the last woman to be hanged, and child killers Myra Hindley and Rose West.

The last cell door clanged shut in 2016 and the Ministry of Justice sold the four-hectare site to Peabody for £81.5m in 2019.

The new development will see an estimated 3,500 new residents and people living nearby say there are not enough facilities for them – with no new community centre.

Eleven objectors spoke of various concerns at a planning meeting in Islington’s assembly hall.

Councillors wanted to know why there are no homes offered at London Living Rent instead of shared ownership, which they fear is out of reach for many people.

Cllr Paul Convery said: “This is the largest single housing application that I can remember, nearly 1,000 homes.

“I am a little concerned about no affordable tenure except for shared ownership.”

Peabody’s project director Tom Wiliamson said: “The scheme is in deficit so we can’t change it to London Living Rent – it would be a different cost to us. By doing shared ownership we can deliver the 415 affordable homes.”

Cllr Nick Wayne asked why owner occupiers and shared ownership tenants would not be sharing the same block to build an intregated community “rather than being segregated”.

Williamson said it was to keep service charges “to a minimum for social residents”.

He said residents would share facilities including the park and community rooms, which could include a cinema and gym, as well as play areas across the estate.

Cllr Jenny Kay said: “We know shared ownership is unaffordable.”

She added: “To me it feels like a private development with all the bells and whistles that a private development normally has and none of the extras that think about how you can bring people together.”

Another sticking point is over the amount of play space for teenagers.

Williamson said there was space for table tennis,  marbles, ropes and outdoor gym use.

Some of the buildings exceed the council’s 30-metre height policy. The council’s planning team said the buildings are of “good design and quality”.

Neil Kahawatte from Penderyn Way said: “Due care and consideration  has not been taken with the design of this scheme.”

He said it would affect light for residents and the buildings are “oversized”.

He added: “There is much anger and upset amongst us.”

Helen Strongman from the Bakersfield residents’ assocation explained how long-term residents Elizabeth and Lee felt the development “would affect our light , space and use”. They said it “would be overwhelming”.

Peabody said the taller buildings were set back and some of them were stepped to reduce the impact.

Williamson said: “We have worked hard to limit the impact to our neighbours.”

Building engineer Jonathan Ward said there are too many homes – 36 per cent more than the council’s capacity estimate for the site.

“If you are going to spend over £90m of public money on creating 415 homes for the most needy, then they should be demonstrably good homes,” he said.

“It is a travesty that it will be such poor quality.”

He said: “The extreme density means that the internal conditions will be poor in other ways. Poor views, in many cases looking straight into other flats.  Minimum daylight levels will not be achieved in 210 rooms, and winter sunlight levels will not be achieved in over 500 of the rooms.”

Williamson said developers had listened carefully to residents over the last three years and changed the plans after hearing from them.

“We feel passionately that the proposals are of the highest quality,” he added.

“They will be places where people want to live. Holloway will be a place where people want to thrive.”

He stressed the development is tenure-blind.

Islington Homes for All said most of the social housing will be on the polluted and noisy Parkhurst and Camden roads.

Peabody said 44 per cent of homes on those streets were social, with just seven per cent for market rent and the remainder for shared ownership.

Cllr Ibrahim said he was “shocked” that 93 per cent of the homes facing the busy street will be affordable homes and wants Peabody to look at it again.

After over three and a half hours of discussion, the decison was deferred until 8 March.