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MP joins attack on Pentonville prison flats left to lie empty

The Ministry of Justice say they are still considering selling the flats to Islington Council

08 February, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Jean Willson in Roman Way two years ago 

 

THE Ministry of Justice has been criticised for refusing to lease flats next to Pentonville Prison which have been left empty for three decades.

Islington South and Finsbury Labour MP Emily Thornberry said it was “unacceptable” that the 30 homes in Roman Way were vacant in the middle of a housing cri- sis. Islington Council has also raised concerns.

Jean Willson, who has lived next to the prison in Caledonian Road all her life, highlighted the issue five years ago and she met MoJ officials with Town Hall housing chief Diarmaid Ward in 2017. This week she was told the properties are being

considered for “alternative uses” but would not be leased to the council.

The three- and four- bedroom flats, which once housed warders at the Victorian prison, have stood mostly empty for 30 years, according to Ms Willson.

She said: “Why is the Ministry of Justice only talking about ‘alternative uses’ now? What about the decades before? Why can’t they get workers at the prison living in them at the very least? There is such a shortage of housing in Islington.”

Ms Willson, who runs disability charity Centre 404, added: “You see so many homeless people and it’s awful that these flats are empty.”

Ms Thornberry said: “Islington is a borough with a high level of housing need. Far too many families are living in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation.”

She added: “It is also a borough with very high housing costs, which make the private sector unaffordable, and drive many families into homelessness.

“In the midst of this severe housing crisis, it is unacceptable that flats which could provide emergency accommodation for homeless families should have been left empty for so many years.”

Cllr Ward said the council and the MoJ had been “finally about to make progress on the issue” and a lease was about to be agreed with the council this week.

But speaking on Monday, he said the MoJ had since changed position, adding: “We were informed by MoJ officials that they had been instructed to look instead

at alternative uses for the site. This is a kick in the teeth for the local home- less families who would have benefited from this much-needed housing being made available after lying empty for years.

“A Ministry of Justice that does not understand housing justice is not worthy of the name.”

A MoJ spokeswoman said it had not yet ruled out selling the flats to the council. She added: “We have received a proposal from Islington Council and are considering a range of options, taking into account value for the taxpayer and social obligation.”

Ms Thornberry and Cllr Ward have requested an “urgent meeting” with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

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