I saw an advertisement today for a massive skyscraper in Chelsea. A top end luxury development. Photographed so it looked like a silver iconic monolith towering over everything else and touching the sky. Which in a way it is. It’s advertised in a newspaper that many working Londoners pick up, as if It is aimed at us. As if we could consider living there – buying or renting!
But the secret is that it’s not meant for us. Not for Londoners at all. Even rich ones. The advert is just to make you THINK it’s aimed at us. They are not expecting a response from you. No one is really meant to live there. It’s advertised just to keep people happy. To make them think that all the building that is going on in London is somehow improving things by providing accommodation for young people starting out, for essential workers who need to be close to where they work, or for people living in low quality houses and flats, or indeed just for anyone looking to rent or buy their own place in London. But it’s a lie.
No, these luxury properties are meant for investors – mostly foreign – to buy and then leave empty to wait for its value to increase. And in the meanwhile pushing up the price of all the properties in the vicinity, either through gentrification of the area or just by the huge demand and lack of affordable homes. An absolute disgrace in a city – and country – where homelessness is increasing – and has in fact doubled since 2010- 4751 people officially slept rough last winter – although the homeless charity Crisis states it is more like 8,000. A quarter of these were in London, and represent a 73% increase over the last year. And that figure does not include those who live in temporary accommodation, b&bs, hostels, tents, cars, trains, buses etc and probably squats or condemned property.
When leafleting I have noticed how many blocks of flats are now half empty – people have been moved elsewhere so ‘improvements’ can be made – but how many people are actually moved back in? People fear that these blocks of flats that they call home will indeed be hugely improved but then sold to private companies rather than be used as social or council housing again. Why are blocks of flats sitting empty while people are homeless? It is going on all over London, and probably all over the UK.
Back to the advert for the luxury development in Chelsea. These are being built all over London. They represent everything that is wrong with a lot of the building that is going on here. Yes, we need to attract the wealthy and the investors to our country. But the people that buy these skyscrapers have probably never even stepped foot here, or seen the properties, let alone planning to live in them, or better still, rent them out to Londoners. They are like empty, useless shells, taunting the poor and the homeless and even those amongst us who just want to have their own home. So long as these empty shining towers of nothingness keep being built the idea of having your own home in London will just get further and further away.
And it’s not as if they enhance the skyline. They are more suited to New York or Dubai. London is full of beautiful old buildings. But skyscrapers just block out the view and the light. There used to be a restriction on how many skyscrapers could be built in London – but that seems to be out of the window now (won’t be much point in windows soon anyway). There is some serious natural light blocking going on in the City for sure. And personally, I find Canary Wharf rather ugly and soulless. I have never understood how anyone finds any joy in visiting it unless you have to because you work there. Parts of London are starting to look not like London at all. If we are not careful our history will be totally blocked out by these monolithic icons to greed.
Where I work there is a very busy high street. Last year walking up a side street I noticed a lot of hoarding where shops and cafes used to be. I enquired as to what was going on. Yes, you’ve guessed it – they were building mansion flats! Luxury ones… and they certainly weren’t going to be used to house those desperate for their own homes. By the way, in that area alone there were 9000 empty properties last time I checked – why? Because either they are too expensive for anyone to afford or they are too badly in need of repair to be used. With this blatant complacency towards properties we already have you wouldn’t think there was a housing crisis at all!
Same for cinemas and markets or anything else that gets in the way of building more and more flats rather than using what we already have. A cinema in the same high street had developer after developer applying to buy it to turn into a luxury development. Local residents started petition after petition. It went on for a long time – and yes the developers won. I’m wondering how the running battle over Shepherds Bush Market is going to end…
I guess so long as the foreign investors are pumping money in by buying these gilded empty cages that no human hand must ever sully, that the government will do nothing as it makes the economy look great. But meanwhile, your average loyal hardworking Londoner is being left behind in the rush to accommodate overseas investors who have no interest in what goes on in our city as they never intend to live here anyway.
So just remember, when you see those ads in the newspaper or online or the tube for luxury investment skyscrapers being built all over London – the ads aren’t really aimed at you – no – look away now – they are just there to make you think that all this building is somehow improving our lives.
But it isn’t. It’s just a smokescreen. And a tall empty ugly one at that…