Ronke Lawal, chief executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce, says the Town Hall must 'enable growth'
Published: 25 May, 2012
by PETER GRUNER
BUSINESS leaders have warned that jobs are being put on the line because of the Town Hall’s hardline stance on building new homes.
Ronke Lawal, chief executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce, has waded into the row which has already pitched Islington’s Labour-run council at odds with residents and Scouts.
Ms Lawal has dramatically spoken out in the row over plans for a £30million redevelopment of art framers John Jones in Finsbury Park.
The scheme, involving more than 100 jobs, has been put on hold because it contains student housing rather than what the council wanted – affordable homes for families.
The council wants to address the chronic housing shortage in the borough – a recent report stated that a couple need to earn £72,000 a year to afford to rent a two-bedroomed flat in Islington – by building as many new homes as possible.
They do this by insisting all new developments must include 50 per cent affordable housing. But this has already led to the collapse of a deal to build a new Scout hut in Holloway Road and has seen Hornsey residents up in arms over proposals to demolish Ashmount School and replace it with houses.
Last month, a £1.2million scheme by Islington District Scouts HQ development in Holloway Road was refused by Islington Council because it contained 10 affordable homes rather than 11.
Ms Lawal said that the north of the borough, including Finsbury Park, desperately needs regeneration. “We have to be wary of stifling regeneration projects that will enable growth,” she said. “Affordable housing is, of course, extremely important. But the John Jones project is likely to create wealth and jobs, which are badly needed in the area, and we must encourage that. What we don’t want is for John Jones to move out of the borough. That would be a terrible loss.”
Ms Lawal said that she hoped the firm and the council would find a compromise so that the scheme can go ahead.
Last year, environment secretary Caroline Spelman overturned the council’s refusal to give planning permission for the scheme. Now that decision has been challenged by the council in the High Court.
The proposal is for a six- and seven-storey building with a workshop, retail space, 15 residential flats and 475 student rooms in Morris Place, near Finsbury Park station.
Last month in the Tribune, the managing director of the firm, Matt Jones, accused the council’s then regeneration chief, Labour Councillor Paul Convery, of “staging a one-man battle against the development” over the affordable homes issue. Now Cllr Convery has been replaced by Labour Cllr James Murray, head of housing and planning.
Cllr Murray said the council would be sticking to its policy of developments containing sufficient affordable homes. “We have a housing crisis in the borough,” he said.
“We believe that the John Jones scheme could deliver much-needed affordable homes.
“We already have a great deal of student accommodation. Our policy on that won’t change.”
Opposition leader Lib Dem councillor Terry Stacy said: “We do need housing but not at the expense of local businesses and jobs.
“The council are being extremely short sighted.”