2. Aug, 2017



(as reported on the front page of the Guardian newspaper, 2nd August 2017)

If you have read my previous blog on Ted Bramley, please read this too. Who said history never repeats itself?

There are 1,652 empty
homes in Kensington and Chelsea, including 64 in Notting Dale ward
Across the borough, 37%
of empty properties have been unoccupied for two years or more

Labour has condemned as “simply unacceptable” revelations that 1,652 properties are unoccupied in the London borough where the Grenfell Tower fire took place, calling for government action to bring them back into use.

The Liberal Democrats are also demanding increased surcharges on long-term empty homes, following a report in the Guardian about the owners of vacant properties in Kensington and Chelsea, among them oligarchs, foreign royalty and wealthy businesspeople.

And London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said he would make proposals this year to find a more effective way to tackle the issue.

Grenfell: names of wealthy empty-home owners in borough revealed

Names emerged in a list detailing the council tax information of the vacant homes and their 1,197 owners. This appeared to have been sent accidentally by the council to multiple recipients, including the Guardian.

Among the empty properties is the former Brompton Road tube station building, vacant since it was bought for £53m by the Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash in 2014. He is fighting extradition to the US.

Michael Bloomberg, the media billionaire and former New York mayor, bought a seven-bedroom grade II*-listed mansion for £16m in 2015, which remains empty.

Other unoccupied properties are owned by offshore companies, including Dukes Lodge London, part of Christian Candy’s luxury property business; and Smech Properties, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the vice-president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing minister, has previously criticised the government for what he has called the slow pace in rehousing the 158 households identified as being left homeless after the Grenfell Tower fire, in which at least 80 people died.

Responding to the list of empty properties, he said: “When the country is already in the grip of a housing crisis, the fact that properties are left empty is simply unacceptable.

“The government has long been aware of this problem, and with survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire still to be rehoused seven weeks after the tragedy it is more necessary than ever for ministers to take action.”

Around the country as a whole, Healey said, there were about 200,000 long-term vacant homes, “including those bought and left empty by speculative investors”.

He said: “Labour would allow councils to charge a 300% empty homes premium on properties that have been empty for more than a year and ask them to prepare empty-homes strategies to bring homes back into use in each area.
“We would also reverse the Conservatives’ weakening of councils’ powers to introduce empty dwelling management orders to bring homes back into use.”

Khan commissioned research earlier in the year about the scale of homes in London bought by overseas buyers.

A spokesman for the Labour mayor said while overall rates for empty homes were low in the city, the proportion increased in wealthy central areas, among the most expensive homes, and for those bought by overseas buyers.

Khan did not consider the 50% council tax surcharge on empty homes “to be sufficient in high-value areas of the capital, and he will be bringing forward proposals for a more effective approach later this year to tackle this issue head on”, the spokesman said.

Vera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrats’ local government spokeswoman, said the Grenfell fire “brought into sharp public focus how yards from people living in overcrowded poverty were scores of opulent, empty town houses often kept vacant by off-shore investors who don’t even need rental income”.

She added: “We could be hiking up council tax far more – at the moment some such people are paying a 50% premium but if they’re so wealthy they don’t care.

“We could put council tax up on such property to 200% or more to ramp up the pressure on such owners to put their portfolios on the market. The proceeds of increased council tax could then be invested in more affordable housing and safety measures.”

Kensington and Chelsea, which is struggling to identify a sufficient number of local homes to replace those destroyed in the blaze, charges an extra 50% of full council tax – the maximum permitted – on homes left empty for two years or more.