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No shelter for homeless on Holloway Prison site

Justice Ministry snubs Corbyn plea that rough sleepers need ‘somewhere to live immediately’

09 March, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

MP Jeremy Corbyn addresses the packed meeting

LABOUR Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s demand for part of the former Holloway Prison site to be opened as a temporary homeless shelter has been rejected by the government.

The Islington North MP said he had asked the Ministry of Justice to “release” the visitors’ centre to help the “homeless crisis beyond crisis” while talks on the jail’s future are continuing.

Speaking at a packed public meeting about the future of the site in St George’s Church, Tufnell Park, on Friday evening, he said: “I’ve had a reply from the Secretary of State for Justice who tells me the building is busy in use for training of prison officers. If anyone can confirm this I would be grateful. If it’s not the case I’d also be grateful to know that. I’m sceptical, shall we say, of this so I will be going back to them on this.”

He added: “I just think at the very least we can say: ‘Look, there is a rough sleeping crisis now. Those people are all decent human beings who happen to have fallen foul of the lack of affordable housing in this country. They should get somewhere to live immediately.” Mr Corbyn is among those calling for the MoJ to make sure the site’s new owner comes up with a community-led development with plenty of social housing.

The Town Hall’s planning guidance demands that at least half of the housing built on the site is “genuinely affordable”.

He added: “If we don’t change tack on housing policy, this area, like every other part of London and then moving on to Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and so on, will be social cleansed on the altar of free market economics in housing and development.”

Community Plan for Holloway presented its survey results on what residents want for the site, including how 527 out of 900 people who responded wanted genuinely affordable housing.

The Holloway Prison site

Bids for the site closed in November, but fresh calls were made on Friday for London Mayor Sadiq Khan to intervene and buy the site.

Glyn Robbins, from Islington Unite Housing, said: “If we just rely on the planning system the [housing] waiting list will continue to get longer.

“From the start of this campaign we were very clear: this is not pie in the sky, this is not about gesture politics and flag waving, this is about real solutions to the housing crisis using land that we own.

“The person that should be buying the Holloway Prison site should be Sadiq Khan.

“He’s got a housing budget of £3million. We have written to him and demanded he bids on that site.”

Niki Gibbs, from Reclaim Holloway, presented her plans for a women’s centre at the former all-female prison site, which were welcomed by Mr Corbyn.

A MoJ spokesperson said: “The visitors’ centre at HMP Holloway is currently a key site for prison officer assessment, as part of our drive to recruit 2,500 extra officers across the estate.

“As the secretary of state makes clear, the centre is not vacant and is unable to be put to alternative use.

“We always seek best value for taxpayer money, and expect to make an announcement on the successful bidder in the coming months.”

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