Holloway: if it ain't worth much, don't sell it

Matt Ford
Friday, 11 January 2019

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has made another candid admission about the market for closed prison sites during questioning by the Justice Committee in mid-December. He said that 'in the best-case scenario' the most a London prison, the most valuable due to the London housing market, could fetch is £75 million. He added that it costs over £200 million to build a new prison. It follows his admission last year that now is not the best time to be selling a prison.

This appears to significantly undermine a key tenet of the prison building and reform programme announced by the Conservative government in 2015, under which old prisons were to be closed and sold off to fund the building of new ones. The policy now seems dead in the water, with Holloway prison in North London so far the only prison to close under the scheme. Although a bidding process for Holloway occurred in late-2016, and despite numerous announcements by the Ministry of Justice about when a preferred bidder is to be announced, we are still waiting to hear who the buyer is, or if they even have one. Some will say this is yet another reason why the hasty closure of the prison in 2016 wasn't worth the disruption it caused to the female custodial estate, with some reporting that it contributed to some of the highest levels of suicides ever recorded in women's prisons. 

You can watch Rory Stewart's comments here on BBC Iplayer from around 2:08:50. Notice also that he mentions his attempts to sell a prison on the Isle of Wight to the local council for a £1. Even at this price the council are refusing to take up the offer! That they can barely give a site away to a local authority for free doesn't fill you with confidence that they are negotiating a good deal with a private developer for the Holloway site. 

Islington Council's planning guidance, based on an extensive community consultation, makes it clear that they expect at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable housing, public green space, and community facilities, particularly for women, to be part of any future development on the Holloway site. I suggest the Ministry of Justice cuts out the developer, sells the site to the council for a pound, and provides them with the funding to build social housing and other community resources for local people.