A good turn out of concerned residents attended the Highbury East Ward Partnership meeting on Tuesday night to hear the latest update on plans for the Highbury Roundhouse. The planning brief for the proposed development is due to go to the Council Executive for approval next week. Clearly the council has listened to comments submitted in response to their consultation, offering residents some comfort on amenity and the impact of the development on neighbouring properties, though many still have concerns.
However it is quite clear that developers are being given carte blanche to demolish the Roundhouse office building at 71 Ronalds Rd to allow them to go for new build (VAT free) rather than refurbishing the existing building which would incur VAT payments. When questioned, the council claimed the building not being listed as justification for allowing demolition. VAT incentives to demolish are clearly a national planning problem but if the council had a serious commitment to sustainability it would encourage the retention and refurbishment of a perfectly sound building.
Further, the council seems to have given up on its strategic aim to provide a recreational walking & cycling route from Highbury Fields, via Gillespie Park to link up with the Parkland Walk at Finsbury Park. Even though it is currently working on this link through the Sustrans Connect 2 project at the other end. While Whistler St residents and users of Olden Gardens have justifiable (but not insurmountable) concerns about design and security this should not be enough to justify cancelling what would be a major strategic benefit for the borough. The proposed omission of this final link in the chain is a sad loss for Islington. Islington Green Party urge Councillor Convery to reconsider this before finalising the planning brief.
While residents were relieved to hear that at last the Council has allowed the Roundhouse a lease, a major concern is that the Roundhouse has to raise nearly two million pounds by the end of this year. This is a moment for all of us in Highbury who care about this precious community asset, to either dig deep in our pockets or get creative with fund raising ideas. While the Roundhouse are already approaching numerous potential funders, a clear demonstration of community effort in raising funds will make a more persuasive case. Highbury, lets see what we can do!