Our capital city is becoming a safe haven for the rich of the world, somewhere to stash ill-gotten gains. Meanwhile, the inhabitants are being socially cleansed, priced out by soaring rents and forced out by deliberate government policies...
Westminster in London is one of 962 sites around the world listed with world heritage status by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. That status is now under threat of being withdrawn due to proposed skyscraper development. London is changing with multi-million pound developments that will not only change the landscape of London but change the composition of London. From being the capital of Britain (despite the wishes of separatists and EU sycophants), London will effectively become a bolt hole for the rich elite across the world.
Southwark, seen from the Shard. The cranes are multiplying as London increasingly becomes a multi-millionaire’s playground.
Skyscraper development in London, largely Qatari real estate investment creating vast structures three-quarters or more empty (e.g. the Shard, Britain’s tallest structure), is about attracting a rich clientele from across the globe. London boasts the greatest density of multi-millionaires in any city in the world – over 4,224 – with an estimated 281,000 mere millionaires. London is now seen as the safe haven for investment, with multimillion pound homes for Russian, Arab, Chinese, Indian and other globe-trotting émigrés.
As much as London is seen as a safe haven for the wealthy, the social cleansing brought about by benefits changes, bedroom tax etc, will force an estimated 200,000+ people from the west and centre of London to move to east and southeast London, breaking up long-standing communities and adding to the overcrowding in the east and southeast fringes of the capital. Large numbers of stacked-up small units are being developed there, often on green spaces, to receive some of them. The Royal Institute of British Architects has pointed out that new housing being built in London is on average too small and lacks space outdoors, damaging the quality of life for its inhabitants.
Horrors abound of families relocated as far away as Birmingham, and the cost to local councils of housing homeless families in hotels and bed and breakfasts has risen dramatically. In Westminster it has risen by 63.5 per cent – a cost of £135.83 million since 2009, with an estimated £41.8 million so far in 2013 alone.
Where rents are higher than the government's housing benefit cap allows, social cleansing has occurred, clearing swathes of council estates. New development is then undertaken with the end result that the existing properties are marketed in the Middle East and Far East.
The 3000 homes in the planned regeneration of Elephant and Castle’s Heygate Estate have been marketed overseas by the Australian-based Lend Lease property group, to the chagrin of local MPs and housing campaigners. It cost Southwark Council an estimated £44 million to clear the estate; they sold it to Lend Lease for a mere £50 million. Prices will start at £310,000 for a one-bedroom flat, with the development due to be completed in 2015.
The redevelopment of Battersea Power Station site after years of dereliction could have been used to provide homes for Londoners, but instead was handed to a Malaysian-backed developer who is selling apartments to Singaporean investors for between £350,000 and £6 million. Nearly all the 866 units have been sold to overseas investors before construction even begins.
Meanwhile, the 25 per cent of Londoners who rent are struggling, with rents rising eight times as fast as wage rates. Demand has undoubtedly been pushed up by the recent wave of migration from Europe, with numbers set to increase as Europe's economic crisis worsens and raises unemployment levels there. Also, the popularity of ‘buy to rent’ by both London based and overseas landlords increases demand and is driving up property prices in London, exacerbating the housing crisis for all.
We now have a new phenomenon: “land-banking”. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London defines it thus: “To constrict supply to push up prices by land-banking.” Johnson has threatened compulsory purchase orders against land-banking companies. There are an estimated 400,000 undeveloped building plots in London with over 177,000 housing developments ‘stalled’ while companies wait for prices to rise still further. It remains to be seen whether the Mayor's bite matches up to his bark.
In a more sinister move, the Department of Communities and Local Government has launched a further “right to buy” campaign of council and social housing. This housing is of course predominantly occupied by working people and each house sold may remove a working class family when they then sell to realise the £100,000 profit from their discount. It will generally constrict the available amount of affordable housing, and is potentially another form of social cleansing to change the demographics of the boroughs of London, reminiscent of the illegal gerrymandering activities in Westminster and Wandsworth during Thatcher’s period of office.
With wages in London as elsewhere in Britain stagnating or declining in real terms over the past 6 years, how are the workers of London, if dispersed to supposedly cheaper but more distant accommodation, going to be able to get to work – let alone afford to live? Of course they cannot. Overcrowding, depressing of wages, illegal labour, poor health will increase, recalling the London of the 19th century with a widening gulf between East and West London.
The Mayor of London presents London as the most exciting, dynamic, diverse city in the world. Circuses, sport, £1 billion investment in cycle lanes, candy floss and tourism. The population in London is growing towards the 8.20 million mark, the most rapid growth in Britain. Yet wages are plummeting. The national minimum wage or the pathetically improved London Living Wage have become the norm for many workers. Housing is in crisis. The unified transport system desperately clings together. Unemployment among 16-25 year olds is at unprecedented levels. Food bank provision in London is soaring.
Workers in London need to decide what future they want for the capital. Unprecedented influx of wealth with no-go areas, suburbs packed with migrants and the uprooted? London as Britain’s capital city or an island plaything for the world’s “elites”? London’s landscape is changing but workers need to define the margins, quality and composition of their city. ■