Sunday, 25 November 2012

Social Housing for Mount Pleasant

As people may be aware, Royal Mail is planning to redevelop part of their large WC1 Mount Pleasant site. Both Islington and Camden councils are involved in this and with 750 homes currently planned, it is going to be a major development. Exhibitions have been organised and early plans have been submitted. On Wednesday 14th November, a development forum was organised to discuss the whole project.

The meeting was packed with residents with a range of concerns, most from local housing associations. A wide range of issues were raised but the general feeling was very much that the plan was ill-conceived. The proposed buildings seem excessively high in places (up to 15 storeys), not taking sufficient account of people's right to light, especially along Calthorpe Street and Farringdon Road. The design is rather unimaginative and people felt it was inward-looking. Some spaces in between buildings seem to have no public access, raising the risk of creating gated communities. A public space has been planned for, but it is still unclear who will own it and pay for its maintenance. The danger that it could be lost to private interests in the not-so-long term was raised. 

Generally, in an area which lacks public amenities, including a school which has been demanded for years, it was felt that not much was on offer for the local community and that the proposed development was simply too dense. 
These are obviously all legitimate demands and a plan that does not meet such requirements should be resisted. However, given the current housing crisis it is also true that more homes need to be built in Islington. In a capitalist system, we will always be left with different interests seeming to conflict with each other because as long as basic human needs such as education, health or housing are conceived of as services that have a cost and from which a profit can be made, we will be left fighting for what we need. With the Mount Pleasant redevelopment though, we can fight for our common interest, for all our needs, including housing.

Due to lack of time and bad organisation, the type of accommodation that will be available at Mount Pleasant was not properly addressed at the meeting though. So far Royal Mail say they do not know what proportion of private / affordable / social housing there will be. The design of the flats has deliberately been conceived so that they could be used for either type of housing. The fact that no minimum amount of social housing was ringfenced is not a good sign though. The main worry of course is that whichever developer is contracted to do the job will try to maximise profit by trying to pack in as many private housing as possible. But who can afford such rents? 

The National Housing Federation has found that private sector rents have risen 37% in the last 5 years, while wages and benefit levels have actually gone down. Still, private rents are set to increase by a further 35% over the next six years.