‘Big eyesore’: Demolition at Barnsbury estate to go ahead despite complaints about replacement towers

Artist’s impression of some of the new blocks. Image: Newlon Trust / Mount Anvil

The demolition of a housing estate in Barnsbury has been approved despite concerns about the height of some of the replacement towers.

Islington agreed to a housing association’s plans to bulldoze part of the estate off the Caledonian Road.

It is part of a scheme to create 914 homes, two parks, pedestrianised streets, and a community centre to replace the one that will be knocked down.

The project by the Newlon Housing Trust includes larger homes for 70 households who are currently in overcrowded places and suitable properties for their older residents.

The first phase would see 401 homes built across seven buildings ranging from three to 11 storeys that are 36 metres tall.

Outline planning permission was also given for the second phase of the scheme, which will include 513 homes, replacement shops on the Caledonian Road and a replacement nursery and community centre.

Newlon Trust chief executive Mike Hinch said: “Redevelopment offers a chance to fix the long-term problems that affect the buildings on the estate and ensure that it offers safe, comfortable homes that meet its residents’ needs long into the future.”

He said residents approached the housing association to look at the problems of overcrowding and lack of open green space and they considered a range of options but decided demolishing the “New Barnsbury” homes on the estate would be the best option.

They are also planning to refurbish homes in the 1930s brick buildings on the “Old Barnsbury” part of the estate – with new bathrooms, changes to the layout to create more space and new heaters if needed.

Nearby residents raised concerns about the impact of the tower blocks on their homes and the canalside.

They pointed out that it breached council policy about blocks more than 30 metres high.

One resident said the design panel consulted by the council “don’t agree its good design. By massing them together it’s not having a small eyesore, but having a big eyesore.”

She called for the towers to be “considerably reduced in height”.

The Islington Society objected, saying “the overshadowing, feeling of pressure and enclosure on people will increase” and that the new buildings would “have double the footprint of the existing buildings”.

Another resident said: “The design of the towers, colour of the brick is very much in conflict with pretty much all the buildings around it. I don’t know how far west you have to travel to find buildings 11 storeys high.

“I’m all for improving the area but those three (taller) buildings will do nothing of the sort.”

Barnsbury estate resident Ayan Awale told the planning committee she was a “critical friend” to the team drawing up the scheme, which had the backing of more than 200 residents.

She said: “I made sure my voice was heard.”

Awale said the estate suffers from damp, poor lighting, overcrowding and a lack of suitable play space for children.

She told the committee residents had also worked with the developers to reduce the height of the towers from the original scheme.

“I’m not going to lie, Grenfell came to mind,” she said.

She added: “I am excited about the Barnsbury transformation programme for better homes – warmer, more spacious and safer through improved lighting and security.”

Cllr Hannah McHugh  (Lab, St Mary’s and St Peter’s) said the scheme had to be looked at in the context of cost of living, climate and overcrowding crises and she was impressed by the proposed 45,000 tonnes of energy efficiency and 135 affordable homes.

Cllr Benali Hamdache (Green ,Highbury) said he had reservations about bringing in bulldozers because of the environmental impact.

“Rightfully Islington has been very sceptical in demolition,” he said, adding that some demolition projects in south London “fill me with horror”.

Cllr Bashir Ibrahim (Lab, Arsenal) suggested deferring the decision.

He said: “I’ve not heard anything convincing on why we have such tall building on this development.”

He added: “I’m just worried about the precedent it sets that we are allowing tall buildings that goes against our policy.”

“I think there is more we can be doing about bringing down that height and massing.”

The scheme was approved by the planning committee last week.