The London borough of Islington, home to several noted legal figures, seems to have fallen out with the Ministry of Justice. A dispute is festering which concerns 29 former prison officers’ flats up against the north wall of HMP Pentonville on the upwardly mobile Caledonian Road.
They have been empty for a decade and would be ideal for homeless families, says the council.
Local solicitor and Islington councillor Diarmaid Ward tells Obiter that both sides were on the brink of agreeing terms when the council was informed by MoJ officials that they had been instructed to look instead at ‘alternative uses’.
The ministry is saying little, merely confirming that it has received a proposal from the council and is ‘considering a range of options to guarantee the best deal for the taxpayer’. That’s usually code for ‘flog them as bijou apartments’: two-beds in a new development over the road are being advertised at £785,000. But whether customers in this bracket will fancy living in the shadow of one of the grimmest prison walls in England remains to be seen. There is also a question of security: the flats are a stone’s (or contraband package’s) throw from the exercise yard, now netted over against drones.
So, what ‘alternative uses’ does the ministry have in mind? Emergency accommodation for magistrates in the event of Brexit riots, perhaps? Or a commuter hub for civil servants along the lines of those that won a Whitehall award for ‘best optimisation of property portfolio for smart working’?
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