Billionaires Row: a Palatial Wasteland

billionaires row dilapidation

Over the years on this blog I’ve frequently written about the obscene levels of inequality that are now so prevalent in many countries, and that most political parties now only really represent the interests of the richest 1%. The 99% are effectively marginalised. I have also written about the corrosive effect this has on many aspects of our society, and have referred people to Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson excellent book, ‘The Spirit Level’.

In this week’s Guardian Weekly there is an excellent article by Robert Booth titled ‘Billionaires Row: a palatial wasteland.’ One street, The Bishops Avenue, in London’s Hampstead Heath is full of houses valued in the tens of millions of pounds standing empty and dilapidated. The owners are a motley crew of Saudi Royals and Russian oligarchs who’ve bought these properties as investments, with no intention of living in them. I’d like to quote the last paragraph of the article in full because it shows the staggering lack of vision of our typical politicians when confronted by such realities:

‘A Conservative Councillor, Andrew Harper, whose ward covers the avenue, asked whether leaving homes vacant for decades was acceptable said: “That’s their prerogative. It is difficult to imagine what one would put in place to force things to be different to how they are.”’ He sounds like a spokesperson for this tiny super rich minority, rather than a representative of the people in his ward, let alone the poor and homeless of London. Just off the top of my head let me make a few suggestions for our hapless Councillor to consider.

Setting levels of Council Tax on empty property is now up to local authorities. They should set these at the maximum levels, ideally many times higher than for occupied properties, and to increase every year the property is left empty. Stamp duty on property sales should be radically increased: if someone can pay £30 million for a house they can probably pay £60 million: a 100% stamp duty would also have the effect of pushing down prices at the top and probably generally too, so reducing the London Housing bubble. Currently the top rate is 7%, but as demand for these palaces is so strong, clearly the top rate is far too low. Alternatively, what about compulsory purchase and conversion to housing association apartments, perhaps for London’s homeless?

Robert Booth in the Guardian Weekly