Selling off Brixton HMP would be ‘alarmingly short-termist’ amid housing crisis, says think-tank

Allowing private development on Brixton Prison land would worsen London’s housing crisis, according to an economics think-tank.

Police, firefighters, paramedics and other essential personnel are already being forced to seek homes outside of the city, said to risk increasing response times in the event of an emergency.

The Harris Review into London’s Preparedness to Respond to a Major Terrorist Incident, published in October, highlighted expensive housing costs in London left ‘blue light’ emergency service workers £500 a month short of being able to afford a flat there.

London Assembly Green member Sian Berry said: “Very few emergency service staff live in the borough that they work and in fact face long, stressful commutes after extensively demanding shifts.

“It is a genuine issue and we need a strategy to help these key workers be readily available when we need them.”

The shortage of affordable homes means that within London more families, couples and pensioners are having to let long-term rather than buy.

Ms Berry launched a survey in July into problems faced by London’s 2.3 million private renters highlighting that how so many are unhappy with their situation.

“The idea of renting being temporarily when you first move to London isn’t the case anymore and most people are going to have to rent for life now,” she said.

“I think there are so many ways which the community and the government can come up with more affordable homes and the government needs to consider its full remit.”

Despite continuous appeals, the government has had little involvement in private renting costs and is accused of fuelling the fire with public land sell offs.

The then Chancellor George Osborne announced in last autumn’s spending review that many prisons were ‘relics from Victorian times’ standing on ‘prime real estate’.

The government suggested closing down these sites and selling the land to private investors would mean more than 3,000 new homes could be built.

But a report from The New Economics Foundation (NEF) said this would only heighten the housing crisis and be a tragic waste of public resources.

NED researcher Alice Martin said: “The sale makes bad economic sense as month on month land prices in London are now in decline and once the land is sold it’s a vital public asset lost.”

The NEF identified Brixton HMP as one of the 10 public land sites being lined up for the development of private housing sites – far out of reach for local people.

“Aiming for a one off cash injection through selling the land is alarmingly short-termist – an irresponsible move given the scale of the housing crisis,” said Ms Martin.

“We should keep the land public and build affordable homes that can provide long term income for the local area and start to conquer the housing crisis.”

The NEF estimated 750 good quality and affordable homes could be built on the Brixton HMP site, saving £47million for the housing benefit bill over the next 30 years.

A Lambeth Council spokesman said: “We are committed to building 1,000 extra homes for council rent in the borough, to help address the housing crisis problem.

“As a council, we must look at every scrap of land available to us to help provide those much-needed homes and our estate regeneration programme is designed to do this.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said no concrete plans for selling off Brixton HMP were in place and that they were only in the white paper stages of the proposal.

“We want a prison estate that is less crowded, better organised, and that is increasingly made up of modern, fit for purpose accommodation,” he said.

“HMP Wellingborough is the first site to be earmarked for potential redevelopment, with further announcements to be made in due course.”

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