The more expensive a property in London, the more likely it is to be empty

If only people lived in them. Image: Getty.

More than 500 high-rise developments are in progress across the city of London. For a nation in the grip of a housing crisis, this should be good news. But in reality, this will bring hardly any benefit for many of those seeking a decent home. Almost none of the new homes are reserved for people with no or low incomes and, although house prices in London are falling – particularly at the upper end of the market – construction for wealthy people and international buyers continues.

Much of this building is actually intensifying the stress on the affordable housing market, as developers grab cheap land and resources that can be converted into expensive, for-profit housing construction. Many public housing estates have been demolished, while others threatened with demolition may be replaced by expensive rented housing and units for sale at eye-watering prices.

London hosts the highest number of super-rich individuals per capita of any city globally. Around 3,100 residents are ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) – those with assets, not including property, of £20m or more. And a further 6,100 UHNWIs have second homes in the city. The 2018 Sunday Times rich list suggested there were 92 billionaires in London.

Abundance and austerity

Affluent buyers continue to build and purchase property. In spite of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, more homes were sold in London at the £10m-plus mark in 2017 than in each of the preceding two years (435, 397 and 401 respectively, according to Land Registry data). Yet the large flows of international investment capital and borrowing to buy into the “safe bet” that is London’s housing market is being shaken by anxiety about the potential impact of Brexit.

It seems perverse that London is incapable of providing for most of those who work in and maintain the city – whether in periods of economic abundance, or austerity. Capital investors, planners and the city’s various tiers of government appear increasingly disconnected from the human need for decent, affordable shelter. This has become a familiar story to Londoners and residents of other cities such as New York, which have been touched by investment capital lacking a sense of social mission or responsibility.

High-cost homes in Kensington. Image: Klovovi/Flickr/creative commons.

In collating new research on new-build luxury apartments and houses, I have found that many of the homes in these developments lie underused or vacant. Around one in 20 homes in central and west London lies empty, according to the UK government’s statistics agency. A full 89 per cent of all new builds in London are apartments, and between 2014 and 2016 around one in six of these was sold to overseas buyers – that’s 13 per cent.

This figure rises to more than one-third of buyers, or 36 per cent, if we look at the “prime” market areas of central London over the same period. Here, vacancy was measured by looking at homes with little or no “transactional data”, relating to finance, retail or other forms of administration, such as tax records and bills.

On this measure, we find that half of residences in new builds in general are empty, as are 19 per cent of dwellings across London’s inner boroughs. The likelihood that a home is empty rises alongside its market value: 39 per cent of homes worth £1m to £5m are underused, and 64 per cent of homes worth more than £5m. Of the homes owned by foreign investors, 42 per cent are empty.


Housing for whom?

The appearance of large numbers of essentially vacant luxury homes says a lot about the ability and motivation of authorities to address society’s need for housing. With roughly a year’s worth of housing production devoted entirely to the construction of luxury apartments – many of which are unsold – it seems fair to offer a damning verdict.

Yet for some, the city’s new architecture indicates a move in the right direction. Patrick Schumacher, director of Zaha Hadid Architects, has argued for public housing to be removed and for a deregulated, free-market approach to be the means by which housing is allocated in all cases.

Even while misjudging the views of the wider audience of these comments (London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, for one, slammed his ideas), such notions nonetheless remain dominant among those who believe that the market should dictate what is built and where, with no concern for wider public value or contribution.

In a time of austerity, many local authorities appear to be seeking to reduce the cost and presence of low-income housing. In this context, expanding the role of private sector development may seem appealing. But it’s increasingly clear that allowing markets and profit motives to trump social concerns could lead to growing anger, given the failure to address the housing needs of low and moderate income groups.

Where inequality, austerity, a major housing crisis and Brexit will lead is not at all clear. It will take an injection of new thinking and a challenge to the dominance of markets and austerity measures, to tackle the housing crisis effectively.

The Conversation

Rowland Atkinson, Chair in Inclusive Societies, University of Sheffield.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.


In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.