Hostmaker’s apology isn’t an apology – and short-term lets are an attack on ordinary renters

Still no idea. Image: Generation Rent.

It was Friday at 5pm when we got the message – well, when CityMetric got the message, to be more specific. After Generation Rent’s petition climbed to over 8,000 signatures, short-term lettings company Hostmaker finally apologised and announced that the ads encouraging landlords to turf out long term tenants in favour of holiday lets would be removed from London’s transport network over the weekend.

In its official statement, the company said:

“We are sorry for the concern caused by our recent ad campaign and we acknowledge the tone was misguided. The adverts will be coming down this weekend and we will be reviewing all future creatives with our partners.”

My first instinct was to celebrate – but the rest of the statement quickly turned my celebration to disbelief at how out of touch one company could be. Here’s the rest of the statement...hold on to your hats.

“In a cosmopolitan city like London, there is a need for a range of housing and rental solutions to meet the needs of the wide variety of residents and visitors in our capital city. Whilst it’s critical that there is plenty of affordable housing stock available, our portfolio is made up of premium homes in zone 1&2 postcodes and does not take affordable housing stock away from the market.

“We are here to meet the needs of Londoners and visitors to the capital who would prefer to stay in a high quality, furnished and managed home service. We provide a flexible lettings model to homeowners of these type of properties; blending long-term, mid-term and short-term rentals to suit market demands and help homeowners weather the current slump in rent prices and property sales, ensuring they aren’t left with gaps in the year when their property is standing empty.”

Firstly, let’s take note of the fact that Hostmaker didn’t get in touch with Generation Rent directly to let us know the outcome of our campaign. Instead, it went straight to a journalist. That’s pretty damning proof that this apology is more about damage control than anything else.

Then there’s the send time. At 5pm last Friday, I should have been starting to wrap up for the weekend; instead, I was busy letting the 8000 people who joined our campaign know they’d won.

Hostmaker’s statement is, quite frankly, disgusting. Let’s take it line by line to find out why.

“Whilst it’s critical that there is plenty of affordable housing stock available, our portfolio is made up of premium homes in zone 1&2 postcodes and does not take affordable housing stock away from the market.”

Zones 1&2 are not the preserve of the uber-rich. In zones 1&2 you can find Tower Hamlets, a borough where the average household earns £23,092, spends a whopping 71 per cent of its income on rent, and where 48.6 per cent of children live in poverty. In Kensington & Chelsea, the average income is £34,678 and 95 per cent of earnings go towards rent.

So: Hostmaker’s adverts telling landlords they can make “up to 30 per cent more” by ditching their tenants for short term lets are, ipso facto, encouraging landlords to kick out the poorest renters in zones 1&2.

Hostmaker’s “premium homes” in zones 1 and 2 would be a lot more affordable to Londoners if they didn’t have to pay the 30 per cent mark-up that holiday lets make. Those people now have to find homes in zone 3 or beyond, and can outbid renters already living there with their higher incomes. Those renters are pushed even further out from the centre, adding to the pressure throughout London – all thanks to companies like Hostmaker which take homes out of the long-term residential market.

“We are here to meet the needs of Londoners and visitors to the capital who would prefer to stay in a high quality, furnished and managed home service.”

I’m a Londoner who wants “a high quality, furnished and managed home service”, Hostmaker. In fact there are 2 million renters in London who probably want that too. What of them?

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines here.

“…help homeowners weather the current slump in rent prices and property sales”

Bear with me whilst I get my tiny violin for this one. The average rent per person in London is £660 and, as someone who was once separated from a housemate by a wall so thin I could push it over, I know all too well that many landlords are cramming enough tenants into houses to cover much more than their mortgage.

London’s house prices might have fallen by 2 percent over the past year – but they are still 89 per cent higher than they were a decade ago. If landlords have a business model that cannot handle a slowdown in rents, then they should sell up to someone who can.

But clearly the holiday let market is appealing for landlords precisely because they want to maximise their profits. This is exactly why we ultimately need to do more than take down the ads: we need to tax and regulate the sector properly.

You know what’s the worst part is? The ads are still up. On Sunday evening I walked through Oxford Circus and saw three huge Hostmaker ads still there. On Twitter, we’ve been sent proof of adverts on the Overground this week.

Incidentally, some Londoners now seem to be taking matters into their own hands.

Georgie Laming is a campaigner at Generation Rent, which represents 11 millions renters across the UK.


 

 
 
 
 

What are Europe’s longest train journeys?

The Orient Express was a pretty long train. Image: Getty.

For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, a question popped into my head and refused to leave: what’s longer? Britain’s longest train joruney, or Germany’s?

On the one hand, Germany is quite a bit larger – its area is 70 per cent more than Great Britain’s. On the other hand, Great Britain is long, skinny island and Germany is much rounder – the distance from John O’ Groats to Lands End is over 1,400 km, but you never have walk over 1,000 km to cross Germany in any direction.

And it turns out these factors balance almost each other out. Britain’s longest train, the CrossCountry from Aberdeen in Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall, runs 785 miles or 1,263 km. Germany’s longest train, the IC 2216 from Offenburg in the Black Forest to Greifswald on the Baltic coast, is exactly 1,300 km. Germany wins by a tiny distance.

Except then I was hooked. What about the longest train in France? Spain? Italy?

So I did what anyone would do. I made a map.

The map above was all drawn with the Deutsche Bahn (Germany Railways) travel planning tool, which rather incredibly has nearly every railway in Europe. The data quality is better for some countries than others (the lines in France aren’t quite that straight in real life), and the measurements may be a bit off – it’s not always easy to find the length of a train service, especially when routes can vary over the year – but it gives us a good idea of what the routes look like.

Let’s start with the UK. The Aberdeen to Penzance route isn’t really for people who want to go all the way across the country. Instead, it’s a way to link together several railway lines and connect some medium-to-large cities that otherwise don’t have many direct services. “Cross-country” trains like these have existed for a century, but because they crossed multiple different company’s lines – and later, multiple British Rail regions – they tended to get ignored.

 

That’s why, when it privatised the railways, the government created a specific CrossCountry franchise so there was a company dedicated to these underused routes. If you want to get from Edinburgh to Leeds or Derby to Bristol, you’ll probably want a CrossCountry train.

The usual route is Edinburgh to Plymouth, but once a day they run an extra long one. Just one way though – there’s no Penzance to Aberdeen train. 

The longest train in Germany is weird – at 1,400 km, it’s substantially longer than the country itself. On the map, the reason is obvious – it takes a huge C shaped route. (It also doubles back on itself at one point in order to reach Stuttgart).

This route takes it down the Rhine, the biggest river in west Germany, and through the most densely populated patch of the country around Cologne and Dusseldorf known as the Ruhr. Germany’s second and third longest trains also have quite similar routes – they start and end in remote corners of the country, but all three have the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area in the middle.

You’re not meant to take the IC 2216 all the way from north east to south west – there are much more direct options available. Instead, it’s for people who want to travel to these major cities. They could run two separate trains – say, Offenburg-Dusseldorf and Griefswald-Cologne – but making it a single route means passengers benefit from a bit more flexibility and helps DB use its rolling stock more effectively.

France’s longest train exists for a very good reason. Most of France’s high-speed lines radiate out from Paris, and it’s very hard to get around the country without going to the capital. Usually to get from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Nantes near the Atlantic, you’d need to take a TGV to Paris Gare de Lyon station, then get the Métro across the city to Gare Montparnasse.

Once a day though, this TGV avoids this faff by stopping in the suburb of Juvisy and turning around without going into the centre. This lets passengers travel direct between the coasts and reduces the traffic through Paris’s terminals in the rush hour. The exact length of this route isn’t clear, but Wikipedia says it’s about 1,130 km.

Spain’s longest train is very different. This is the Trenhotel sleeper service from Barcelona to Vigo, and it’s pretty fancy. This is a train for tourists and business travellers, with some quite luxurious sleeping cabins. But it is a regularly scheduled train run by the state operator Renfe, not a luxury charter, and it does appear in the timetables.

Being dry, hot and quite mountainous in its middle, most of Spain’s cities are on its coast (Madrid is the one major exception) and as a result the train passes through relatively few urban areas. (Zaragoza, Spain’s 5th largest city, is on the route, but after that the next biggest city is Burgos, its 35th largest,) This is partly why overnight trains work so well on the route – without many stops in the middle, most passengers can just sleep right through the journey, although there are occasional day time trains on that route too if you want to savour the view on that 1,314 km journey.

Finally, there’s Italy. This is another sleeper train, from Milan in the north to Syracuse on the island of Sicily. It goes via Rome and travels along the west coast of... wait, it’s a train to the island of Sicily? How, when there’s no bridge?

Well, this train takes a boat. I don’t really have anything else to add here. It’s just a train that they literally drive onto a ferry, sail across the water, and then drive off again at the other side. That’s pretty cool.

(As I was writing this, someone on Twitter got in touch to tell me the route will get even longer in September when the line to Palermo reopens. That should be exciting.)

So those are the longest trains in each country. But they aren’t the longest in Europe.

For one thing, there are some countries we haven’t looked at yet with very long trains. Sweden has some spectacular routes from its southern tip up into the Arctic north, and although the Donbass War appears to have cut Ukraine’s Uzhorod to Luhansk service short, even Uzhorod to Kharkiv is over 1,400 km. And then there are the international routes.

To encourage the Russian rich to take the train for their holiday, Russian Railways now run a luxury sleeper from Moscow to Nice, passing through France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czechia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. This monster line is 3,315 km long and stretches across most of the continent. That’s got to be the longest in Europe, right?

Nope. Incredibly, the longest train in Europe doesn’t actually cross a single border. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Russia, but it’s not the Trans-Siberian – the vast majority of that’s route is in Asia, not Europe. No, if you really want a long European train journey, head to Adler, just south of the Olympic host city Sochi. From there, you can catch a train up to Vorkuta on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The route zigzags a bit over its 89 hour, 4,200 km journey, but it always stays on the European side of the Ural mountains.

Bring a good book.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray often tweets about this kind of nonsense at @stejormur.


All maps courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.