Campaigners occupy empty Islington flats as they urge government to give them to families in need

Protest at former Pentonville Prison officers’ flats. Photograph: Housing Rebellion

Campaigners occupied empty prison officers flats to highlight their calls for the vacant homes to be given to needy families.

Housing Rebellion staged the protest to urge the Ministry of Justice to hand over 28 empty three- and four-bedroom homes beside Pentonville Prison to Islington Council.

The campaign group is concerned about the housing crisis and environmental issues including the impact of demolishing rather than retrofitting buildings.

One of the campaigners, Tamsin Stirling, said: “The flats were occupied to highlight the outrageous fact that these homes have been left empty for so long while many, many families are living in cramped temporary accommodation with little chance of being rehoused.

“Three and four-bedroom homes are in particularly short supply.”

The flats have been empty for an estimated 10 years.

The Citizen revealed how the Ministry of Justice has paid £600,000 on council tax for the empty homes over the last seven years. It is now paying 300 per cent council tax – the rate charged for homes vacant for a decade or more.

Stirling said: “The state of the flats inside was just shocking. People’s stuff and furniture was strewn everywhere. Paint was peeling. It’s not looking its best. The longer they are kept empty, the worse they will get, but it’s fundamentally a good building.”

She said: “There was a lot of support for us from people going by. People were shocked the flats have been empty for so long.

“People could live in these empty homes.”

She added that there are 15,000 families on the council waiting list in Islington.

Morag Gillies and Andy Bain from Islington Homes for All, which has campaigned for years to get the flats reused, said they “welcome the occupation to help highlight our long-running campaign for the 28 empty flats to be handed over to Islington Council”.

They added: “It is a scandal that working class people are being squeezed out of a London borough when they could be placed into these three- and four-bedroom flats.”

The flats are in two blocks on Wellington Mews and Roman Way.

The police were called to the protest but there were no arrests.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “An application to turn the site into new housing was turned down by Islington Borough Council in 2021 so we are continuing to look for the best way to use the property.”

That decision was upheld by the planning inspector.

The spokeswoman declined to comment on the protest.

Cllr Diarmaid Ward, Islington’s executive member for finance, planning and performance, repeated his hopes that the government would discuss the flats’ future.

He said: “If the Ministry of Justice wants to talk about how we can work together to get these desperately needed homes back into use, my door is always open.”

He called on the government to submit a planning application, with half of the homes “genuinely affordable for local families”.

In 2019, the council and the Ministry of Justice were close to an agreement over the flats but it stalled at the last minute and the council later rejected the application for a certificate of lawfulness to develop the flats.