Islington – Planning Policy to be Used to Clamp Down on ‘Buy to Leave’

Guardian

If any one has the report link ill post.  The BPF doesnt get it – S106 runs with the land.

Thought if there is a klnown rate of ‘buy to lave’ should this not add to obejctively assessed need, like second home?

“Buy-to-leave” investors could be fined up to £60,000 in an assault on empty housing being considered by a London council.

The charge on the growing phenomenon of vacant homes in high-value areas, exemplified this year by the scandal of empty mansions on the Bishop’s Avenue in north London, has been proposed by Islington council. Close to 300 of homes built in the area since 2008 still have no one on the electoral roll, which the council says may mean they are vacant.

Owners would be obliged to ensure properties are occupied “regularly throughout the year” or face a charge as high as £60,000, a discussion paper set before the council last week suggests. On request, owners would be expected to supply evidence such as utility bills to prove someone lives there. The fines would help fund affordable housing elsewhere and would be written into planning agreements.

The move represents an escalation in efforts to stop those investors content to enjoy house price rises in London in excess of 10% a year without occupying or renting out homes. Councils are able to charge an extra 50% on a council tax bill only if a home is empty for two years – little more than £1,000 even for large homes.

“We want to use planning policy to end the scandal of new homes being wasted in this way,” said James Murray, executive member for housing and development. “The criticism of ‘buy-to-leave’ is straightforward: it is wrong when new homes fail to house people. Londoners’ need for somewhere to live should come ahead of global financial investments. It is clear that timidity in the face of an unbridled market will fail.”

The property industry immediately said the plan did not “add up”. “Will it only apply to the first sales of a development, or to subsequent sales, which are clearly totally outside the control of the developer, as well?” said Ian Fletcher, policy director at the British Property Federation. “How will the council stop developers just increasing the price of the units in line with the fee charged? As there are already tools in place for councils to deal with empty homes, we would suggest Islington council’s efforts would be better spent focusing on their efforts on initiatives that will boost development, rather than make it more difficult.”

Islington’s move reflects growing concern at the practice of “buy to leave” and last week’s budget, the chancellor, George Osborne, said anyone buying a property worth more than £500,000 through a company would be required to pay 15% stamp duty unless the property was rented out. The move was aimed at stopping wealthy speculators and investors buying up housing and leaving it empty.

Islington analysed electoral roll data for half a dozen new apartment buildings constructed since 2008 and found that, of the 587 dwellings, a third had no registered voter living in them or were marked as empty. For the Orchard Building, a block of 45 flats, 23 fell into that category.

The proposed fines were welcomed by Empty Homes, a campaigning charity. “It’s an innovative idea and the principle is exactly right,” said David Ireland, chief executive. “It is wrong that we have a huge need for housing in London and quite a lot of what is built is not being lived in. This won’t be in the interests of some developers but it will be in the interests of Londoners.”

Helicopter City

I find Sharjah where i’m now living a fascinating City.  You might not have heard of it but it’s the third largest city in the UAE after Dubai and Abu Dhabi, about half the size of those at around 900,000 population.  It is a more conservative place than either but is not dull and austere like one Gulf country I could mention, rather it is a buzzing metropolitan place much like the centre of any western or asian city with a high population density at its core.  If you want certain comforts you can get in England then go 15 minutes up the coast either east or west no big deal.

What surprised me , It is more densely populated, much more, than Dubai.  Dubai is not really one city it is 2, 3, 4, 5+more being added every day strung out along its ever lengthening freeway network, islands of gleaming towers, which are really separate and widely strewn cities, and an ‘historic core’ around Dubai Creek.  Dubai has its however but they are much less densely occupied than Sharjah where its often densely shared flats house those working in Dubai.  This leads to in Sharjah’s large (though not large enough) urban core shops and restaurants on almost every spare building frontage.

Sharjah though is definitely a single city, a harbour city constrained to its east and west and like most Harbour cities they shoot upwards.  It also has lots of towers along its waterfront corniche roads, which Dubai, unusually amongst major Gulf Cities, simply does not have as its waterfront was swiftly taken up by resorts, docks and expensive villas.

Transport is ‘interesting’ .  It is the most easy place in the world to get a taxi.  I have never waited more than 15 seconds.  Amazing.  The problem is that you often have to get into two or three as the drivers say they are new and they don’t know where Dubai or Rolla (the old city centre of Sharjah) is.  Once wonders how they make a living, it would be like a cabby in the City not knowing how to drive to Westminster.

One thing that Sharjah has way more of than Dubai is helicopter pads on the roof.  They exist in Dubai but are rare.  There are several reasons for this.  Plots in Sharjah are rectangular and small often developed high rise from ‘upzoning’ like in Vancouver say, which results in small square and narrow building forms which tend to have flat roofs.  Dubai is the land of megaprojects, bigger plots and architects who love spires and the famous ‘zoo’ of strange geometries.

More important though is the traffic congestion.  Before the crash of 2008 you could be stuck in the traffic driving in the morning to Dubai 15km away for 3 hours.  People used to drive at 4am in the  morning and sleep in their car at work.  Now it has eased slightly, there is a toll gate and lots of expensive grade separation, even lost of double decker bus on it, but fundamentally the Al Wadr road to Dubai suffers from too many original bad design decisions confusing local and strategic through traffic, it can never fully be fixed and the more you try without major new public transport links the more trips you induce.  The sea and Dubai airport, combined with political choices to limit cross border roads or even build them and not join them up, channel most traffic onto this one corridor.  It is a sight to be seen at what I call ‘check point charlie’ at Saharah Mall in the evenings where to avoid the 20 dinar Salik toll on taxi journeys people jump out of Sharjah Taxis and into Dubai taxis across a dusty no mans land (or vice versa) so you see an army of phillipino shop workers and Russian hookers all fighting for cabs – bizarre.  It could cause a border war (dont tell Putin) -(within living memory there were several border wars between the Emirates, dozens died, now it more by proxy with Dubai keeping 100s of millions of dollars from Salik charges on Sharjah residents).

So a fad developed for buildings with helicopter pads.  Seriously it was though of as a potential answer to transport problems.  One things of the fantasy cityscapes of 1960s planning full of helicopters flying over the plebs below.   But I have never seen one of these pads used, and there are hundreds of them, I counted over 15 within 200m of one building.  Some seem very dangerously placed in relation to other buildings.  Towers however often have big penthouses just below the pad, but real estate here is not that expensive, if I had twice my salary I could almost afford one, but I certainly could never afford a helicopter with 10 times my salary.  But the pads may certainly come in handy one day – pizza delivery by personal drone anyone?  Now that proposal I was going to send by Courier?