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.

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

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