Archive for February 2014

1 Grosvenor Square - Public Exhibition

A Public Exhibition will be taking place tomorrow (1 March) at Grosvenor Chapel, 24 Audley Street, London W1K 2PA.

Please make sure to visit this exhibition to share your views on the proposals before a Planning Application is submitted. Please see the document below for further information:

1 Grosvenor Square newsletter Final -

Time the Raise the Roof on UK Housing Pressures

My article for the Huntington Post yesterday

It goes without saying that there are no easy solutions to the UK's housing problems. With a growing population and increasing attractions for people to come to London, both from within the UK and around the world, London has exceptional pressures. We need to build more homes of all tenures in the capital to keep up with demand.

This month the NHBC have reported very welcome news that in London, the number of new home registrations made in 2013 - total of 26,230 - was the highest since records began more than 26 years ago, an improvement of 60% on 2012. We need significant further advances on this figure in the coming years to keep up with demand, but genuine progress is being made, which is welcome.

However, after decades of under delivery of new homes, we need to help bring relief to housing pressures in the short term and medium term while we catch up on building. That is why I am supporting a new campaign by the UK's leading flatshare and supported by Shelter - 'Raise the Roof'.

The campaign has a very simple aim, which has the chance to deliver a real change for London's rental market - to increase the Rent a Room Scheme tax-free threshold from £4,250 to £7,500 per year.

Under the scheme, householders can receive tax-free rental income on their spare room(s) up to the threshold amount. This is not only simpler for the taxman and the householder, but also encourages those with extra space to rent it out.

The campaign calculates that homeowners are sitting on 15 million spare bedrooms in England. Encouraging them to let those rooms by raising the Rent A Room Scheme threshold will not only help them cope better with rising living costs, but will also go some way to solving the supply issue in the short and medium terms.

With 7.7 million one person households in the UK, a figure that has grown by over 500,000 in the last 10 years, helping tackle loneliness is an added benefit. Nearly a third of London's household comprised one person living alone, the vast majority of which are of working age.

This simple but effective change is needed as the current Rent A Room threshold discourages people from letting rooms for fear of falling foul of the tax man, but raising the threshold to reflect market rents would alleviate that concern for many and reduce the pressure on the hyper competitive rental market within the capital and across the UK.

The shocking facts are:
  • The Rent-a-Room scheme tax free threshold has not changed, even in line with inflation, since 1997
  • There are no areas in London with average room rents under the current threshold of £4,250 per year
  • Only 33% of rooms in the UK are under the threshold with the average annual rental in the UK currently at £5,593
The Chancellor will deliver his 4th Budget on 19th March. Now is the time to Raise the Roof on the Rent A Room threshold.

For further information about the campaign please visit

Fitzroy Place Development

Please see below the Fitzroy Place Newsletter for February 2014 for the latest works and upcoming activities:

Exemplar_Newsletter_Feb_2014 EMAIL -

Consultation on the Introduction of Water Cannons

Recent discussions have been taking place on whether the police in London should be able to use Water Cannons when facing significant public disorder.

MOPAC will be holding a public meeting that the Deputy Mayor for Policing, Stephen Greenhalgh, will be hosting, along with Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley of the Metropolitan Police Service, on 17 February at 19:00 in committee room 5 of City Hall. It is important that you attend this consultation to learn more, have your questions answered and to make your views known.

Please follow this link for further information: Public Engagement on Police Use of Water Cannon

The West End economy is centre stage of UK growth

My article for Trending Central yesterday
Last week, the Office of National Statistics  confirmed the economic recovery continued in the final quarter of 2013, driven by strengthening consumer spending and investment. Following this, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, have published impressive business confidence figures which have led them to forecast growth of 1.5% in the first quarter of 2014 alone.

London is the powerhouse of the recovery, with 80% of private sector jobs being created in the Capital; and the West End economy is leading the way in London’s international race. Not only is growth in the whole UK economy storming ahead of the Eurozone (0.8% versus 0.1% in Q3), the IMF is predicting the UK will be the fastest growing western economy this year.

The West End is the heart of London’s retail and entertainment sector and with the pre-Christmas sales period posting record sales, up 10% from last year, buoyed by a swathe of international visitors stocking up on bargains, it perhaps comes as no surprise to many Londoner’s that that the UK economy is expected to overtake Germany as Europe's economic powerhouse..

As we compete to retain our title as the world’s greatest city, the number of foreign tourists visiting London was up 20 per cent last summer to a new record - making it the world’s most popular destination, with almost 5 million visitors to the capital between July and September. Those figures exceed the number coming to London during the 2012 Olympics, demonstrating an Olympic legacy that is treating London well. As Boris has said “These incredible figures prove that London is without doubt the greatest city on the planet.”

But it may not be good news for everyone. On the back of the economic recovery and renewed international interest in London  house prices in areas of the West End have risen dramatically with prices in Marleybone, for example, recording increases of 12.3% in 2013, while more established markets such as Mayfair rising 11.6%, and prime central London as a whole closer to 8%.

This is not only for a challenge for those looking to get onto the property ladder in the heart of the Capital, but also raises concerns about Central London being used as an international parking lot for investor’s cash. Tackling this and ensuring the West End remains a vibrant residential community as well as a key international destination will be one of the key challenges for the West End in the coming decade.

Housing policies such as Westminster’s Fair Share, which I established, will be essential to delivering affordable housing in the West End and rewarding workers who provide vital services that keep the Capital moving and retain its international reputation.

We need also to think creatively to ensure the diversity which gives the West End the character that makes it such an international hub is retained. Keeping traditional sectors, like the creative industries,and  small, specialist retailers  in and around Soho will be vital for the future. Upward pressure on rents, and high demand for premium retail space, coupled with the anticipated boost from Crossrail will all bring both benefits and challenges to the West End. Striking that balance is no easy challenge.

As 2014 gets underway and forecasters revised upwards expect economic growth across the UK the West End will continue to be centre stage to London’s international reputation and a driving force of growth both in the Capital the country as a whole.  

5 - 6 Stanhope Gate - Proposed Redevelopment

A new Planning Application is soon to be submitted to demonstrate proposals for a new residential development and Public Realm upgrades to this site. Please see the leaflet below which gives an overview of the plans:

A public consultation will be undertaken by Westminster City Council and it is key that residents, businesses and the local community follow this Planning Application as it progresses as any feedback provided will form part of that report. Full details on this application will be on the Council’s website in due course but, when the opportunity does becomes available, please take the time to make your comments known so that the local voice is heard.


Blocking much needed investment is not the key to unblocking London’s housing woes

My article for ConservativeHome, published 06/02/14
On Tuesday, the think tank Civitas became the latest organisation to fall into the trap of thinking the solution to rising house prices in London is to block foreign investment. Throwing out of the window the generally agreed economic principle of free markets and free trade, Civitias call for the establishment of a new Government Quango, the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), with the specific intent of blocking foreign investment in the UK, at the very time we need to attract greater foreign investment to boost economic growth and exports.
While it is true that house prices in London have been rising fast, and that in itself is unsustainable and damaging for the market in the long term, we have seen many reports that also point out traditional markets for foreign investment, such as Chelsea, Belgravia and Knightsbridge have seen growth below 6%, compared to 11.4% across London as a whole. House prices, in London and elsewhere, are not being driven skywards solely by foreign investment, but rather a greater market failure to ensure supply meets demand for housing of all tenures.
As I argued in October on this very website, blocking out foreign investment in fact risks greater pressures on London housing supply, and even higher prices.
Foreign investment is vital to promote development of new homes in the capital that will serve future generations, as well as investors and renters in the shorter term. If we shun that investment today, we leave ourselves vulnerable to even greater housing shortages in the future.
Of course, the market has not worked perfectly and the Chancellor has quite rightly recognised that foreign investment in housing must be on a level playing field. In his Autumn Statement introduced capital gains tax on non residents who sell residential property here in the UK, saying “Britain is an open country that welcomes investment from all over the world… But it’s not right that those who live in this country pay capital gains tax when they sell a home that is not their primary residence – while those who don’t live here do not.” This goes further to the changes to Stamp Duty made in previous budgets which introduced a premium for purchasers (mainly foreign buyers) shielding investment in companies.
As a Westminster councillor, an area with more foreign owners of property than anywhere else in the country, I am deeply concerned about the affordability of homes in the City, especially for young people who have grown up here and work in the area.
Unfortunately, contrary to what Civitas would have us believe, there are no easy answers.
The impression is often given that all of the new homes built through foreign investment are multi-million pound luxury homes at the very top end of the market. In reality however the new homes we are talking about extend to affordable homes and everything in between. Forward sales, of the type Civitas are concerned about in their report, provide not just the financial capital to ensure more housing units are completed in London, but perhaps more importantly it also affords the developer with the confidence to invest time and resources on a scheme.
Developers report that foreign investment is driving development in the Capital and estimates suggest that delivery of new homes in central London would be 40 per cent lower without such investment.
At a time when we are still delivering fewer new homes than are needed, 40 per cent shrinkage could be devastating to housing supply and there push prices up even further. Of even greater concern is the affordable elements of the developments now being built would not have been built at all if the developments themselves had not been started using foreign investment. These homes are 30 per cent or more of the overall developments and occupied from completion by local families in desperate housing need. Those most in need would have suffered even more if these developments had not been built at all, a point ignored by Civitas and Labour.
For the vast majority of developers who rely on bank finance to deliver schemes, in order to advance the initial capital, banks will often require pre-determined levels of sales to be achieved at various milestones. Without these forward sales – some of which are from abroad – schemes will simply not proceed. Estimates suggest that approximately two-thirds of the large scale projects in London are financed on a similar basis.
Another myth about many of the homes in foreign ownership is that they are mostly left unoccupied creating ghost communities in the heart of London. True, Knight Frank report that 75 per cent of new homes in Inner London are being bought off plan by foreign investors; but as Colin Wiles points out in the Guardian only 28 per cent of buyers did not live in the UK. One developer I spoke to, pointing to electricity usage on their developments which shows that 95 per cent of its foreign-owned homes are in permanent occupation.
Tackling the housing affordability crisis will only be achieved with a focussed once-in-a-generation house building drive. Wherever the money comes from to build we should remember that the homes are here and will be lived in by Londoners for decades to come.
The ultimate question is not to determine which investors are good or bad, but as an international city, how best can London keep up the supply of new homes of all tenures.