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Minister: ‘It’s a bad time to sell Holloway Prison site’

Rory Stewart sparks fresh confusion over future of Camden Road land

29 June, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Prisons minister Rory Stewart: ‘It’s an interesting thing to buy and it’s difficult to work out what the ideal time to sell that is’

THE prisons minister has said it is “not the best time in the market” to be selling the former Holloway jail, even though the government is currently taking bids for the site.

Rory Stewart told the Justice Committee at the Houses of Parliament last Tuesday that he hoped a buyer for the former women’s prison would be in place by the end of the year.

But he added: “It is not the best time in the market to be selling a prison.”

He then hesitated and added: “It’s difficult, I mean Holloway is a… I’m not sure I… yeah… It’s an interesting thing to buy and it’s difficult to work out what the ideal time to sell that is.”

The sale of the site in Camden Road comes amid continued calls for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to secure affordable housing pledges for the site. Islington Council has drawn up planning guidance that demands at least half of any housing built on the site will be “genuinely affordable”.

The jail was closed in 2016.

Mr Stewart told the committtee: “We are going for a full commercial sale rather than a reuse. People have come to us with other forms of proposals and we are currently going through a full disposal process and we’d hope we’d get a buyer in place towards the end of this year.”

When the Tribune asked the MoJ for further details, a spokesman said an announcement would be made this summer.

Will McMahon, from the Community Plan for Holloway campaign group, said: “In November last year, the government seemed confident that a preferred bidder would be announced in the spring.

Then we are told it will be the end of 2018. Later in the week the Ministry of Justice says it is ‘in the summer’. It sounds like the right hand of government does not know what the left hand is doing.”

He added: “Clearly, a combination of Islington Council’s robust planning guidance, the faltering housing market and the insistence of the local community that it has a say in what is built on the site, has put off those seeking to make a quick financial killing at the expense of the local community.”

Campaigners are insistent that the site should not become a complex of luxury flats.

“The delay opens the way for the community, the council and investors who seek a long-term return to come together to create a plan that would ensure council housing and community resources are at the centre of any development,” said Mr McMahon.

Councillor Diarmaid Ward, the Town Hall’s housing chief, said: “I hope that Rory Stewart has done his homework. Our planning guidance is very clear – this council will not accept less than 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes on the Holloway Prison site and neither will the people of Islington.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are working closely with the local authority and others on the sale of the site and will always seek best value for the taxpayer.”

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