Thursday, 18 May 2017

General Election 2017: Liberal Democrat housing pledges

© London Intelligence 2017

Below is a raw first taste of the housing pledges in the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the General Election on 8 June 2017. 

The Liberal Democrats will aim to build 300,000 new homes a year – to double the current level. Government would commission the building of homes for sale and rent. Developers would be stopped from advertising homes abroad before advertised in the UK.

A Rent to Own model would give tenants increasing stakes in their rented property, owning it outright after 30 years.
Young people to be helped with a Help to Rent scheme that provides government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30. 

500,000 affordable, energy-efficient homes will be built by the end of the Parliament.
Ten new Garden cities will be created with tens of thousands of new high-quality and zero-carbon homes.
A government-backed British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank would provide long-term capital for major new settlement and lever in other finance for house-building schemes.
The borrowing cap on local authorities would be lifted.
Borrowing capacities of housing associations to be raised. 

The voluntary Right to Buy pilots, set up the Conservative government, would be ended. The associated high value asset levy would be scrapped too. 

Smaller housing schemes would be freed of any duty to provide affordable homes.
Local councils to be empowered to prevent large developers reneging on affordable housing commitments.
A Community Right of Appeal would allow local people to defend an approved local plan against planning decisions.
Local councils could charge 200% Council Tax on second homes and on overseas investors who ‘buy to leave’ homes.
Land-banking developers with planning permission to face penalties if they fail to build after three years.

Letting fees for tenants to be banned.
Up front deposits to be capped.
Minimum standards for rental homes to be raised.
Tenants to be given first refusal to buy the home they are renting from a landlord who decides to sell during the tenancy. The price to be set at an independently valued market rate.
Mandatory landlord licensing and a database of rogue landlords and letting agents to protect tenants against rogue landlords and agents. 

Rough sleeping
Ending rough sleeping by increased support for homelessness prevention. Funding age-appropriate emergency accommodation and supported housing.
Ensure all council have at least one provider of the Housing First model of provision for long-term, persistently homeless people.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2017

General Election 2017: Labour Party housing pledges

Aylesbury Estate, Southwark, south London © London Intelligence 2017

Below is a raw first taste of the housing pledges in the Labour Party manifesto for the General Election on 8 June 2017. 

The Labour Party pledges to build over a million new homes by the end of the next Parliament, with at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale.
Thousands of low-cost homes will be reserved for first-time buyers.
Right to Buy will be suspended to protect council homes. Councils will only resume sales if they can show a one-to-one replacement of sold homes. 

New department 
Help to Buy funding will be guaranteed until 2027.
Local people will get first choice on new homes built in their area.
A new Department for Housing will oversee housing provision by an overhauled Housing and Communities Agency. Councils will get new power to build homes for local people on brownfield sites. 

The Green Belt will be protected. A new generation of New Towns will be built to avoid urban sprawl.
A National Transformation Fund will underwrite the building of new homes, including council homes.
An industrial and skills strategy will imbue construction firms with skilled workers who enjoy rights at work.
Homes will be insulated to help reduce energy bills, reduce winter deaths and meet climate change targets. 

Land Registry 
Local plans will address the need for older people’s housing, offering choice and downsizing options. The Land Registry will be kept in public ownership to ensure transparent land ownership. 

Labour promises to secure leaseholders from unreasonable ground rent increases and end the routine use of leasehold houses in new developments.
Three-year tenancies will be the norm. Rent rises will be capped. Letting agency fees for tenants will be banned.
Tenants will be given new rights to tackle bad landlords.
New legal minimum standards will ensure homes are fit for habitation. 

The abolition of housing benefit for 18-21 year-olds will be reversed.
The ‘bedroom tax’ will be scrapped.
Rough sleeping will be ended within the next Parliament. Some 4,000 additional homes will be reserved for rough sleepers.

Source: Labour Party

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2017

General Election 2017: Conservative Party housing pledges

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© London Intelligence 2017

Below is a raw first taste of the housing pledges made by the Conservative Party in its manifesto for the General Election on 8 June 2017.
The Conservative Party pledges to build 500,000 new homes between 2020 and 2022, on top of an existing pledge to build 1 million by 2020.
Councils will be helped with low-cost capital funding to build new homes ‘but only those councils that will build high-quality, sustainable and integrated communities’.

Fixed-term social housing will be built. It will be sold privately after ten to 15 years under an automatic Right to Buy for tenants. Compulsory Purchase Orders will be made easier and less expensive for councils to use. 

High-quality, high-density housing in the form of mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets will be encouraged. Housing associations will be helped to build new specialist multi-generational and older peoples’ homes. Councils will have powers to tackle developers that do not build when granted planning consent.
Public land will be used to build 160,000 homes, a repeat of a 2015 pledge.

Rough sleeping
Rough sleeping will be initially halved, and then eliminated by 2027, by setting up a homelessness reduction taskforce.

There is no mention of the extension of Right to Buy to housing association homes, or of the sell-off of highest-value council homes to pay for the discount.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2017 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Council housing: for whom does the bell toll?

'Dogma': Pre-demolition Heygate Estate © London Intelligence 2017

Writers tend to pen obituaries long before their subjects die, especially about the famous, the seriously ill, or at risk ‘pre-dead’. 
Veteran Labour politician Tony Benn once recited an obituary of Prime Minister Harold Wilson to a fuming Wilson himself. The BBC had asked Benn to write it several years earlier.
As the 8 June General Election approaches, some commentators have already written obituaries marking the imminent death of British council housing. For instance, ‘A Conservative election victory could spell the end of council housing’ tolls the tombstone headline inscribed above a doomsday article by Dawn Foster in The Guardian (5 May, 2017).
But, it’s a fair question; if we accept that Britain’s council housing is at risk, is it seriously in peril, or even ‘pre-dead’? 

The Conservative Party nakedly pursues a dogmatic aim to remove the state from housing provision. By 2016, a staggering 1.87 million homes have already been lost in England under Right to Buy since 1980, according to government figures. But the Theresa May government continues to pursue the extension of Right to Buy from council housing to housing association homes. Conservatives still wishfully think homeowners tend to vote for them.
Yet, under Theresa May, as under David Cameron, the Conservatives primarily regard housing not as the provision of homes but as the spread of commodified and hyper-financialised real estate assets, including swinging publicly owned land into private corporate ownership. This process burgeons a secondary market of interest-bearing loans, commissions and fees to swell a plethora of lenders, builders and agents that inflates personal debt against income. All of this bloats a global pod of international investors and developers with a plankton of profit. 

Foster, in her article, says ‘council housing pays for itself over a lifetime, in terms of reducing housing benefit, healthier, happier families and reduced strain on local health and social services’.
But ask good folks in London boroughs like Southwark, Newham, and now Haringey – and they will tell you that it is actually Labour councils that have spent the past ten years or so selling off publicly owned land at huge discounts and demolishing council estates in Stratford, Walworth and now Tottenham, displacing council tenants away from their neighbourhoods where their families have lived for generations. Labour councils’ consent to developer-led estate ‘regeneration’ schemes even involves serving compulsory purchase orders on Right to Buy leaseholders; so much for Right to Buy’s ‘own your council home for life’ mantra. 

Councillors in these boroughs, clad in Labour clothing, seem spellbound by the powerful aroma and glitter of global real estate. Like zombies, they slither and shuffle with developers and global property players at annual real estate jamborees such as MIPIM at Cannes and the London Real Estate Forum in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square.
Leading Haringey councillors have fallen into bed with Lend Lease to set up a joint 'development vehicle' that threatens council tenants in a myriad of council estates across the borough. Elsewhere in the borough, residents and traders at Seven Sisters are fighting compulsory purchase orders that could see their homes, shops and enterprises lost to a residentual scheme proposed by developer Grainger that includes no council homes.
Some councils, like Islington Council in north London, try to stem this tide but at significant cost. Apparently, the Labour council has spent more than £6.2m buying back homes that it was compelled to sell to people for less than £1.3m under Right to Buy. 

Market state 
But, generally across London, a local ‘market state’ -  a coalition of Labour politicians and property profiteers - continues to replace council homes homes with new housing for private market sale, private rent and mortgage-driven shared ownership. They replace council homes with increasingly ubiquitous ‘Affordable Rent’ housing, with rents charged at up to 80% of local average market rents.
Leave aside that Affordable Rent offers fixed rather than secure tenancies. Rents continue to rise and overheat in most parts of London rendering Affordable Rents unaffordable to average and lower income households. The politically Affordable is socially unaffordable – an Orwellian doublespeak that might’ve even raised a George Orwell eyebrow. 

Originally philanthropic but now profit-driven, housing associations are also slated for lustily nailing the coffin lid. For instance, Notting Hill Housing, with the backing of Southwark’s Labour leadership, remains hell-bent on demolishing 2,750 homes on the Aylesbury council estate in Walworth, south London, including many ex-council homes bought by former council tenants and now leaseholders under Right to Buy.
Notting Hill Housing intends to replace the Aylesbury’s 2,750 homes with 3,575 new homes of which 1,750 will be ‘affordable’. But this involves a net loss of between 778 and 1,166 genuinely affordable and secure tenure social rented homes.
Housing associations across the country are also going cap in hand to government for funds that are only released on condition that the money is used to build Affordable Rent homes offered at 80% of local market average rents. 

Labour’s pre-manifesto promise is to help councils and housing associations build one million new homes. But the deeper challenge for Corbyn’s Labour – and, indeed, for any emerging ‘progressive alliance’ of Labour, Greens and left-leaning Liberal Democrats - is to shed the developer-led ‘regeneration’ approach to building new homes, even when the developer is a registered and regulated housing association.
If that message could somehow be impressed upon the electorate before 8 June, then maybe those ‘inevitable’ obituaries could be waste-basketed and reports of the extinction of British council housing could be classed as greatly exaggerated.
Yet, with council housing, as with most things, ‘if’ remains one of the most telling words in the English language.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, May 2017

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Centre Point: Another Marmite tower for London

Artistic impression of a refurbished Centre Point. Courtesy: © Rick Mather Architects

By Paul Coleman

Some Londoners love Centre Point. 
Others loathe it. That makes Centre Point another of London’s ‘Marmite’ skyscrapers.*
Property tycoon Harry Hyams’ honeycombed block stands sentinel and slightly convex over Tottenham Court Road tube and Crossrail station. Completed way back in 1966, (the last time an England team won the football World Cup), Hyams’ 34-storey edifice stands as a looming monument to a 20th century gluttony for speculative office space. 
But Centre Point is being refurbished, with 82 new luxury apartments for global investors but only 13 ‘affordable’ flats for local people. Prices vary from a 'modest' £3 million for a three-bedroom apartment to £55m for a five-bedroom suite with grand views over London.
Will Centre Point become a monument to a 21st century global gluttony for speculative investment in London’s uber high-priced real estate market?

Trophy asset
Yes, more than likely, says the Khaleej Times. In January 2017, the Dubai-based English newspaper and website advises its Gulf investor readership: 'If you are looking to own a postcode in central London, a buying opportunity has just cropped have a chance to own a slice of British history since Centre Point is a Grade 2 listed building.' 
The Khaleej Times cites Victoria Garrett as the in-depth font of Centre Point sales knowledge. Garrett is a partner and head of a team at Knight Frank - the global property investment agency - that sells 'investment and trophy assets to High Net Worth and Ultra High Net Worth Individual clients within the Middle East'. 
'We had a private afternoon high tea for a group of ladies in Dubai who are interested in buying in the UK, to give them an overview of this development (Centre Point),' says Garrett, who has 13 years of experience of matching HNW and UHNWI clients with investment and trophy properties.

Missed opportunity 
To be an UHNWI, you'll need at least $30m in investable assets. So, by definition, Garrett's HNW and UHNWI target market is tiny - compared, of course, to all the people who need a home. But the HNW and UHNWI pie makes up for in cash what it likes in numbers. Globally, over 212,600 Ultra High Net Worth Individuals hold a combined $30 trillion in net assets, according to a World Ultra Wealth Report by Wealth-X. They control 12% of global wealth, despite making up just 0.004% of the world's adult population. 
Centre Point apartments aren't likely to be unsold for long. 
But questions remain. The adjacent on-site block of just 13 ‘affordable homes’ aimed at local people means Centre Point represents a missed opportunity. Surely, Centre Point could have made a more significant contribution to resolving the chronic shortage of genuinely affordable housing suffered by working people in London?

Located in the borough of Camden, designed by Richard Seifert and protected as a designated Grade II listed building, Centre Point sits close to some of central London’s most desirable neighbourhoods - Bloomsbury, Covent Garden, Fitzrovia and Soho. Centre Point’s fresh controversy over its lack of affordable homes connects strongly with its past. In the 1970s, despite its pre-cast concrete Brutalist architectural merits, Centre Point's vast office floors fail to attract a singular one-off tenant. Hyams refuses to let it piecemeal to multiple occupiers. 
Squatters and students then take it over in 1974, protesting at the lack of decent housing in central London. Later, a homeless charity even adopts the moniker Centrepoint and bases itself at the foot of the block. Business lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry, makes Centre Point its HQ for 30 years before moving closer to the City of London’s financial district.

Hence, more empty than occupied during its fifty year history, Centre Point was always going to be a prime target for a developer to come along and subject the complex to an OTRC – a property market acronym for an Office To Residential Conversion.
Sure enough, Almacantar acquires Centre Point in 2011. The central London property specialist’s OTRC makes the complex a prime target for speculative global HNW and UHNWI investors; people looking to stash their cash in the most profitable niches of the world’s real estate market. Of course, Almacantar present their scheme publicly as a major benefit to Londoners. ‘The project will breathe new life into this landmark, giving it a sustainable and exciting future for the benefit of all Londoners and visitors to the capital,’ says Kathrin Hersel, Almacantar’s development director.  

Centre Point will challenge other uber­ expensive London schemes on grounds of controversial exclusivity; even though it stands outside London’s so-called ‘prime central platinum triangle’ of Knightsbridge, Belgravia and Mayfair.
London’s real estate industry will herald Centre Point as right up there with the likes of the Candy Brothers’ One Hyde Park, a development overlooking Hyde Park and Knightsbridge, where one apartment sold for £140m in 2014.
Instead, Centre Point is better compared with the Shell Centre, another OTRC, on the South Bank. The former London HQ of the global oil company, Shell, is being converted into 877 new homes. Prices start at a heated £540,000. 

Almacantar engaged Rick Mather Architects to renew Centre Point’s components; the 117-metre high tower and a glazed bridge link to a low-rise block with shops and apartments. Conran and Partners reconfigures the complex’s bland office interiors to incorporate 82 new luxury apartments (16 x one bedroom, 37 x two-bedroom, 26 x three bed, two x four bed and a five-bedroom duplex. The complex also features a 30-metre pool, a spa, club and 41,780 square feet of restaurants and shops.
There’s only one deletion. Crossrail’s station construction at Tottenham Court Road removes a pond and fountain that gushed at the foot of the tower’s western frontage. Crossrail - London’s new east-west rail service (due to start in 2018) - gives Almacantar confidence the scheme will be a financial success. Crossrail links Centre Point at Tottenham Court Road to Heathrow Airport in just 30 minutes. ‘Centre Point is now the focus of Crossrail which will trigger an explosion in visitor numbers to this part of the West End,’ chirps Hersel. 
Garrett also chips in, pointing out that Centre Point and Tottenham Court Road will be the only point across London where Crossrail will meet with Crossrail 2, a proposed north-south London rail link. 

Hence, Londoners on average and lower incomes will still use Centre Point as a landmark. They will be able to float through Centre Point but will not be able to call it home. Almacantar says its refurbishment adds a ‘public piazza’ with shops, restaurants and ‘open air space’. However, all too often, ‘public’ and ‘open’ in 21st century London means public access and activity is regulated and restricted by patrolling private security guards.
The security industry loves London’s real estate boom – whether residential, retail or office. Expect to see a lot of security and surveillance as you munch a pizza on the piazza.

Centre Point and its OTRC ilk also create opportunities for other contractors. For instance, the conversion needs a lot of bathroom suites and ceramics.
In 2016, C.P. Hart Contracts secures a deal to install bathrooms in the 82 apartments and penthouses. Established by Charles Percival Hart in 1937, the company creates high quality traditional and contemporary bathrooms.
The London-based bathroom company says Dornbracht digital showers, vanity units and sanitaryware will adorn Centre Point’s apartments.
Bathrooms will also feature Bette freestanding baths and Duravit WCs. 

Dark and empty 
But how many apartment owners will enjoy their state-of-the-art showers?
How many Duravits will be flushed?
Middle East and Far Eastern UHNWIs are expected to snap up the vast majority of Centre Point’s apartments. Very few will actually take up residence.
So, just like London’s other new high profile residential towers, such as One Hyde Park and the St George Wharf Tower at Vauxhall, many apartments inside Centre Point could be sold but remain unoccupied.  
Centre Point then becomes a towering safe deposit box of trophy assets.
An OTRC full of HWN and UHNWI cash seeking a yield. 
A jungle of acronyms but not an anachronism..yet.
A central London monument to 21st century globalised inequality.
Like a vast, dark and empty vessel of Marmite.

*Marmite: a sticky, dark brown and salty food paste, made from yeast - the by-product of brewed beer - producing a taste that polarises opinion.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2017

Sunday, 25 December 2016

George Michael 1963-2016

Extremely saddened to hear of the Christmas Day passing of Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, aged 53, globally known as George Michael, the London-born singer, songwriter, producer and influential global pop star.
Born in East Finchley and raised in Kingsbury, George's death evokes a genuine outpouring of grief and sympathy across London and throughout the world.
George Michael is also the first artist to have sung at the new Wembley Stadium when it opened in 2007.
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou (25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016).

© London Intelligence, London, December 2016

Monday, 24 October 2016

Will London be ready for driverless cars?

The car guzzles unleaded petrol from the pump and the supermarket slurps £1.15 per litre from my wallet.
I know that geo-political chicanery, oil-producing dictatorships and petro-dollar deals somehow fill my tank with this explosive pollutant mix.
But I'm not troubled by all of that today. I'm joining a queue of other drivers fuming as they watch an elderly gent struggle to inflate his tyres. 
Visiting a London petrol station in 2016 feels expensive and archaic.

Even car manufacturers agree.
They say driverless cars, or ‘autonomously driven vehicles’, will be ubiquitous within five years. Makers like Mercedes-Benz say driverless cars will be the biggest paradigm shift since society replaced horses with horsepower over a century ago.
As soon as 2020, according to some vehicle makers, we will be able to sit with our backs to the traffic reading our iPads whilst automatically being driven to our destination.
For instance, Mercedes Benz says its autonomously driven F015 interacts with passengers, pedestrians, other vehicles and its surroundings (above).
Mercedes-Benz describes the F015 as a ‘mobile living space’ that allows passengers to use their time in a variety of ways while on the road.*
‘Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,’ says Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.
‘The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport.”

Naturally, Londoners will have to trust the autonomous technology to be safe.
But even if we embrace technology that replaces us as drivers, is London anywhere near ready for a transformation that will render everyone a passenger?
Driverless vehicles would make thousands of taxi, bus and mini-cab drivers and chauffeurs not only redundant but also obsolescent.

How will Dr Zetsche’s ‘mobile living spaces’ impact on London’s existing roads and on other transport modes?
Will they eliminate human error, accidents and fatalities?
Sure, electric cars will cut pollution but will there be enough charging points?
Would London’s ‘petrol heads’ that like to own and drive their own cars have to pay a premium to stay on the roads?
Will police cars, ambulances and fire engines be automatically piloted too?
Londoners would also be able to forget drivers’ insurance, driving tests and licenses. Londoners might be riding in Apple and Google cars – and most might share or hire cars, just like they rent bicycles in 2016.
So many questions – and yet, barring a few magazine articles, there is little or no conversation in London about possible answers.

The driverless and electric Navya ARMA bus (© Navya 2016)

London is already behind other cities.
For instance, bus passengers are already using two operational driverless buses in Lyon, the French city that pioneered self-service bike rentals.
Up to 15 passengers can ride two electric minibuses that operate a ten-minute route at an average speed of 10km (6 miles) per hour.
The four-metre long Navya-designed ARMA buses (above), costing £170,000 each, carry lasers, cameras and sensors to avoid collisions – although they cannot manoeuvre in traffic.
However, Navya chief executive Christopher Sapet says bigger driverless buses and then cars will soon follow.
‘A driverless French car operating in cities can become a reality as soon as 2018.’

Amidst all of this welter of innovation and paradigm shifts, I notice one thing about the driverless bus. 
Those tyres will still need inflating.

* The F015 is over five metres long and just 1.5 metres high, similar to an S-Class Mercedes. A capsule-like bodyshell is constructed from carbon fibre reinforced plastic, aluminium and steel. A flat front windscreen covers the roof. LED lights provide a variety of lighting functions. Inside, a lounge-like cabin offers swivelling seats that can be turned to face each other while travelling. Six high-resolution display screens integrated throughout the interior allow passengers to use touch, gestures, or eye movements to navigate, browse, or see outside the car.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, London, October 2016