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A property-owning oligarchy has London in its grip

London is being transformed into a glass skyscraper for the super-rich and global property speculators while many of the things which have made Europe’s largest metropolis a great place to live, work and play are set to vanish.

Human-sized pockets of houses, street markets and art centres which have escaped the greedy eyes of developers are under the hammer. Central London and even further out boroughs have become unaffordable.

The “prime property” syndrome is now stretching all along the banks of the Thames. Speculative fever is sweeping into outlying areas, with the poorest councils working hand-in-glove with property consortiums to smooth the way in deal after deal.

The south end of Vauxhall Bridge, across the river from the Houses of Parliament, has already seen a 180-metre tower suddenly sprout up, grossly altering the Westminster skyline. And it is only the first of five.

Places like Wapping will become “wall to wall flats, completely uniform, culturally a complete desert”, an East London art curator has warned. Architectural writer Rowan Moore has pointed to the imminent loss of the Wapping Project in Tower Hamlets. After a 20-year success story, the vibrant cultural space is due to close just before Christmas and the property is likely be sold to a developer.

Blackfriars is now considered as a part of “prime” central London, the first time an area that lies partly to the south of the Thames has earned this dubious description. New “designer homes” will “add a fresh sheen to SE1”, according to an Evening Standard property writer.

“A glitzy new skyscraper is being built at the foot of Blackfriars bridge and already smashing price records for south side homes – studio apartments cost from £960,000.” (“Call developers on 020 7871 7188”, the writer adds helpfully.) A former car park in Union Street off Blackfriars Bridge Road will become a designer apartment complex with prices ranging from £820,000 to £2.25m.

Southwark council was caught red-handed in the Heygate scandal where local campaigners spotted that it had agreed a ludicrously low price with a global property giant Lend Lease in exchange for just 79 social rented homes out of a total of 2,535. Labour-controlled Southwark has one of the highest rates of child poverty in London. It is the ninth most deprived boroughs in the capital.

The Elephant and Castle shopping centre (never exactly a beauty spot, but now home to a popular food market) has been sold for the knockdown price of £50 million to property company Delancey. Its conversion of the Olympic Park’s Athletes Village was heavily criticised for the lack of affordable housing for local people.

A few miles west along the Thames, Wandsworth Council has given planning consent for the £8bn redevelopment of the 1930s iconic Battersea power station to a Malaysian consortium. Penthouse flats are set to go on the market for a cool £30 million each. So feverish is the London property bubble that the first group of flats all but sold out before a brick was even laid.

In Haringey council, Labour MP David Lamy recently fêted the opening of a 78,000 square foot Sainsbury’s supermarket, part of the Tottenham Hotspurs stadium development. Spurs, the world’s 14th richest football club, came under heavy criticism from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

In other parts of south London, champagne bars are opening up as the uber-rich move in. Campaigners are quite rightly opposing the “gentrification” that actually means forcing poorer and middle-class people out of areas that property developers want to milk for huge profits.

The Thatcherite notion of a property-owning democracy – enthusiastically endorsed by New Labour – has truly become an oligarchic tyranny. The time to end it is now.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
3 December 2013

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Your Say

Fiona says:

What I want to know is, who are all these people who can afford to live in all these 'luxury flats' that are currently going up all over the place? But then again when did we last see a development that proudly announced itself as 'non-luxury, bog-standard, rabbit hutch flats' but it still begs the question - is all that renewal of optimism that seems to characterise property developers justified, even on their terms? Will they be left empty, or when will they once again be ripe for repossession?

Fiona says:

And so the bubble is being blown again, how long will it last this time before it bursts? Same in Ireland now that it's celebrating the leaving of the Troika (supposedly) and the gracious permission of the more 'respectable' nations for it to rejoin their table, as long as it behaves itself and its people stay off the streets and not be out hanging around and throwing stuff, like those unruly Greeks and Spanish and all that lot!

Frank Hayes says:

The thing about bubbles is that they all burst. Including property ones. The one that did so in Ireland in 2007/8 (following in the footsteps Northern Rock, Lehman Bros. and RBS) has destroyed the banking system, and in its wake, the whole economy - and is now destroying lives as unbearable Austerity imposed by the Troika (IMF+ECB+EC) results in deep poverty, slashed services, an alarming increase in suicides, and a state left in charge of only a begging bowl. Be very afraid, and then turn that emotion into the energy to create the alternative to this crazy crisis - a sustainable not-for-profit future in which we, the people, can work to meet our real needs.

Liz Beech says:

Hammersmith (where I live, is being mercilessly gentrfied. The Town Hall is due to be demolished to make luxury flats and retail outlets, meanwhile Charing Cross Hospital is due to be downgraded and partly demolished - again for luxury flats!

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