Hathersage Court: Fresh hurdle for council plan to build new homes on 1960s estate in Newington Green

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood - Credit: Archant

Neighbours in Newington Green are fighting council plans to build 45 new homes on an estate, claiming the work would breach Islington’s own conservation policies.

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood - Credit: Archant

An earlier version of the project that would have flattened numbers 41 to 70 of neighbouring Besant Court has been binned, with the new homes now being built in seven blocks behind Hathersage Court. Residents told the Gazette back in 2016 they would put up a fight if that block, Little Besant, were to be knocked down.

Two years on, the council has cleared that hurdle – but now a group from outside the estate styling itself the Newington Green Action Group has been putting up posters and knocking on doors ahead of next month’s planning committee meeting.

Members believe the four proposed five- and six-storey blocks are too high, undermining a council conservation document that says the size of new buildings should be in keeping with the surrounding architecture.

Hathersage Court itself reaches seven storeys in places, but the surrounding streets are terraced.

A hundred people have signed the group’s petition and 25 people have written to the council objecting to the development, which they say would tower over neighbouring houses and block their sunlight. Three other less intrusive blocks would be two to four storeys high.

One campaigner, Barbara Kidd, went door-to-door to get support from those living nearby.

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Barbara said: “The sun moves across in a way so in the afternoon we would get no sun in the front. It’s just so high and impractical.

“This is a really strong community around here, proved by the fact that when we took a petition around we got people to sign it really quickly.”

People actually living in Hathersage Court are largely understood to back the plans, which will see 21 vital council flats, 21 private flats and three homes for shared ownership built. Two council flats will be demolished to make way for them – a net gain of 43 homes, 22 of them deemed affordable.

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood - Credit: Archant

Residents were invited to no fewer than seven briefings and meetings as the plans took shape, the most recent of which was in July.

But those living next door have complained that they weren’t afforded the same level of consultation.

“Nobody gave us a chance to understand what they were going to do or make objections,” said Barbara.

“There was no chance for anybody to discuss it.

“It looks like they really tried to slip it through without people noticing, which is really wrong and really unfair.”

Group member Alex Allardyce added: “Our objection is that the council is not observing their own rules on the conservation plan.

“The rest of the scheme is reasonably good – we all support affordable housing, but this sets a precedent for anything that happens in front of Newington Green to the south side.”

Another man, Chris, who declined to give us his surname, said the new building would directly tower over his house.

“It’s going to make a big difference to our home,” he said, “and the way we utilise it at the back, because the height of the building means its residents would be able to look through our windows.

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood

Hathersage Court in Newington Green. Picture: Chris Wood - Credit: Archant

“Our privacy will go out the window completely.”

Hathersage Court was built as part of the council housing boom in the 1960s on the site of the old Mildmay Memorial Hospital. These days, both residents and neighbours seem to agree it needs work.

Alex said: “Hathersage Court is a shame. It’s a horrible building and we’re thinking in the future when the time is right it would be redeveloped in a more sympathetic sort of way.

“But what they’re now putting in is almost the same height, which sets precedent for any possible replacement in the long term.”

The Hathersage Court TRA (tenants’ and residents’ association) has been rather less scathing, but did write in a 2017 blog post: “As part of the plans the TRA has been lobbying the council for improvements to Hathersage Court, particularly to the front of the estate as it faces onto Newington Green, with new landscaping and a new area for the bins.

“These plans will greatly improve the appearance of the estate for residents.”

Islington’s planning committee is due to make a decision on the flats on December 10.

Hathersage Court and Besant Court: The council’s perspective

Islington Council’s housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward said the borough was “committed to delivering the genuinely affordable housing that local people badly need”.

“This includes building new council homes in our estates,” he said, “which are prioritised for people currently living in the estate under our local lettings policy.

“While developing any new build scheme, we carry out extensive consultation with people living in our estates and take their feedback and comments into account.

“This has happened with this scheme, which has been adapted in response to residents’ feedback.”

One example of that was the plan to demolish Little Besant, which was shelved in 2016 because it didn’t actually create any new social housing and would have resulted in several mature trees being felled [one might reasonably ask why it was proposed in the first place – ed].

With the two flats set to be knocked down, there is a net gain in the new scheme of 19 social homes. But that could rise thanks to the lifting of the government-imposed “borrowing cap” that limits what councils can be lent for housebuilding. An entirely private block at the end of Hathersage Court has now been earmarked for “review” and possible conversion into homes for social rent.