In the aftermath of Covid things have been gradually returning to normal this year. The committee has been able to meet in person most of the year and there has been plenty to discuss, even if the outcomes have not always been favourable.
Face-to-face events continued to pose issues for some members at the start of the year, but we were able to organise two highly successful and hugely oversubscribed tours: to what will be the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration at New River Head; and an architect-led tour of the Smithfield Central Market site which is to be the new home of the Museum of London. We hope to be able to organise similar tours and are working on restoring a more regular programme of lectures and talks in the coming months. This will include a visit to the London Metropolitan Archives and a talk by Jo Dibb, the former headteacher of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School who was responsible for the famous visit of Michelle Obama. We also hope to revive our annual dinner in the new year.
We have faced, and continue to face, large-scale developments in various parts of the borough, most notably the Holloway Prison site. We welcomed this opportunity to increase the stock of social housing, though the development has resulted in concerning new levels of density which seem set to become benchmarks for other sites, such as the planned rebuilding of the New Barnsbury Estate, now before the planning committee, and soon the Bemerton South Estate. We deplore government policies which make developments of this kind only feasible by including private housing in the mix, especially as social housing is liable over time to revert to the private sector. This poses a long-term threat to the social fabric of the borough.
Perhaps the most contentious issue has been the proposed redevelopment of 1 Torrens Street, also and currently known as Angel Square, on the corner of Islington High Street and City Road. Opinion in the committee was evenly divided between those who admired the existing building, those who were happy to see it go, and those who felt that the site deserved a more distinctive and distinguished building than the one proposed. In this situation where it was not possible to go in with all guns blazing, we pointed out that the proposal contravened the Council’s own Local Plan, which highlighted the whole area (the little loved RBS building, Torrens Street, and the old Angel tube station) as one for comprehensive redevelopment in the future. This has unfortunately fallen on deaf ears and the scheme has been approved.
Further significant developments are in the pipeline, including the locally listed Moorfields Eye Hospital site on City Road, but we have been fortunate to have established a close relationship with the PR agency which seems to have a current finger in all the relevant pies, and members of the committee have had productive meetings with architects, engineers and others to have prior input into plans for the Inmarsat building on the Old Street roundabout, a decrepit office building in Paul Street, as well as the Moorfields site. We have another such meeting shortly concerning the redevelopment of a redundant bank building in Chiswell Street.
We have recently made detailed comments on the latest iteration of the Local Plan, which when finally adopted is supposed to govern the policies the Council follows in planning, transport and other matters. We are concerned that there are already indications, as I mentioned before, that these policies are not being scrupulously followed.
The mission of the Society is to protect the distinctive character of the borough. This does not mean just conservation of our Georgian terraces and the encouragement of high-quality architecture; it is also about defending the viability of businesses large and small in our town centres. Members of our committee sit on both the Angel and Nag’s Head business improvement boards.
I am happy to report that the Society is in good health. Membership has increased this year to around 280, thanks partly to our efforts to woo members of the Islington Archaeology and History Society, whose library of historical books and maps we now hold. As you will hear, our finances are strong and, in the circumstances, we have no plans to increase subscription rates at the present time.
During the year we completed a governance and resilience review which found little of concern relating to our statutory and social duties. Our committee has remained unchanged this year and I would like to express my gratitude to all my colleagues for their continued support and commitment, and to all our loyal members.