The other Waitrose effect: how gentrification is linked to rising evictions

Good for staff, but bad for renters? Image: Getty.

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea has become the fishbowl of British inequality. On one side stands the skeleton of the Grenfell Tower; on the other sprawl hundreds of empty mansions. Since June, the council has faced harsh criticism for its failure to address the widening gap between them.

But Kensington & Chelsea is merely an extreme case of the rule – not an exception to it. As house prices continue to climb, the housing market is driving wide-ranging inequalities between property owners with security of tenure and property renters without it.

In a new report for Generation Rent, I showcase this inequality using what I call the ‘Other’ Waitrose Effect: the opening of a new Waitrose, I find, is associated with an increase in local evictions by between 25 and 50 per cent.

Waitrose is a national treasure. The supermarket has succeeded in balancing progressive labour-management relations with competitive pricing on a range of luxury, free-range and organic items. This broad appeal has driven the original Waitrose effect, increasing the value of local properties by an average of £40,000.

Homeowners rejoice. Their homes rise in value, but so do their lifestyles: they have access to Britain’s favourite supermarket.

But there are hidden costs for local renters. As house prices rise, private landlords see an opportunity to fetch a higher price from a sale or a higher rent from new tenants. To do so, they free up their properties with a Section 21 eviction – a “no-fault” eviction – by which landlords can remove their tenants without citing a grievance to the courts, on just two months’ notice. Section 21 evictions have been rising rapidly over the last few years as more landlords are emboldened by higher prices.

The findings of the new report suggest that Waitrose is having a significant impact on these Section 21 evictions. In the graph below, I plot the eviction trends from 2005 to 2015 across all English local authorities. As Waitrose stores open across the period, the gap between the two lines begins to widen. In the fixed effects estimations that I run in the study, I find that the opening of a single store is associated with a rise in evictions between 25 and 50 per cent.

Waitrose is, of course, not directly to blame. The firm is part of a broader process of gentrification – both product and producer of growing affluence in a given neighbourhood. I use Waitrose in this report as a gentrification proxy in order to evaluate the negative externalities of such affluence on the local renter population.

The housing market in Britain is, then, becoming increasingly zero-sum. For homeowners, rising house prices represent fresh cash – they can remortgage to reduce their monthly outgoings or release equity to save for retirement. For renters, rising house prices represent deepening crisis – in turn, the property ladder moves further out of reach, and rental costs rise. The other Waitrose effect simply illustrates these zero-sum dynamics.

MPs from across the political spectrum now recognise the scale of Britain’s housing crisis, and there is near unanimity on the need for more government involvement in housebuilding.

But the political conservation rarely addresses the zero-sum dilemma: millions of British families rely on their homes as a vehicle for their prosperity, while millions of others struggle to afford their monthly rent. The Waitrose effects must be understood together – the housing market always has its winners and its losers.

There are several common sense reforms that can protect tenants without disrupting the market at large. Generation Rent is advocating a policy that forces landlords to reimburse tenants for Section 21 evictions, which would both provide immediate relief to struggling renters and discourage the use of the evictions in general.

To solve the broader housing crisis, though, we must end Britain’s addiction to house price inflation. Families should have enough financial security – high enough wages, large enough pensions – that they do not have to rely on their homes as an ATM for today or piggy bank for tomorrow. Property should not be a ‘better bet’ for retirement than a pension.

Waitrose, for its part, should bring neither prosperity to homeowners nor insecurity to renters. It should, instead, deliver decent jobs and quality groceries – to be enjoyed by all tenures.

David Adler is a post-graduate student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. He conducted this research on behalf of the campaign group Generation Rent.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.