Monday, 16 July 2012

Monday morning's AGENDA: London, the Doughnut, the Jam and 'Britzerland'

Every Monday morning, I was greeted at the start of my commute by a scratch of evergreen graffiti on the railway station platform. 
'Work > Bed <', it said.
 I'd then board a ram packed train bound for what is now increasingly called 'the Doughnut', 'the Jam' and 'Britzerland'.
 'The Doughnut' means London's core area. Only the better off can afford to live in 'The Jam'. Property analysts says the wealthy are  'doughnutting' central London and other areas into 'Britzerland' - a Swiss-styled haven but one where profits boom from property. 
 'Doughnutting' also entails squeezing people on average and low incomes out of central London.

Market failure or success?
In Camden, for instance, some 14,000 people, including many working long hours for low pay, could be hit by the government's aim to cut Council Tax Benefit in  the central London borough by £2.7 million. If claimants lose their entitlement, they could face unaffordable Council Tax bills.
 "People will find it too expensive to live in Camden," says Theo Blackwell, Camden's finance chief. "It's down to the failure of the market. There are extreme rents in Camden."
 Government supporters say benefits reform is overdue. Non-recipients feel benefit payments are unfair. 
 But, if London's 'prime property market' squeezes out poorer people, it successfully entices the world's wealthy. 

Different planet
A mile or so from Camden's southern border, a spectacular laser show last week helped the Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabor Al Thani and the Duke of York - Prince Andrew - to officially open the Shard, currently western Europe's tallest inhabited building complete with £10m penthouses.
 Estates Gazette editor Damian Wild says: "It was as spectacular as it was out of step with the diminished times in which we live. But that's the point: Britzerland is on a different planet right now."
 Property market analyst Mike Prew adds his take on 'Britzerland'. "Although geographically it is London, economically it behaves more like Switzerland with its safe haven status," says Prew.

Safe, perhaps, for France's wealthy fleeing higher taxes imposed by France's new centre-left government. Apparently, London is now France's third largest city. Safe, too, for wealthy Greek, Uzbek, Chinese, Indian and Brazilian exiles to take chunky punts on prime London real estate.
 Pre-'prime', oil rich Saudis, City bankers and Russian oligarchs all bought slices of London's real estate. Working Londoners on average and low incomes huddled into lower value homes. But, at least London's property market in the 1970s, 80s and 90s provided these homes in inner London and outer suburban areas, albeit at rising prices.
 But London's 2012 prime property boom now stands accused of forcing many Londoners into exile from their city. Will council estates and lower value private housing gradually be land-grabbed, land-banked, demolished and redeveloped?
 Regeneration 'Opportunity Areas' abound across London now. But for whom will opportunity knock?
 It's too early to say. Journalism might reveal more. But Britzerland Jam has certainly spread itself across the 'Agenda'.

'Agenda' will appear on Monday mornings.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, July 2012

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