Who lives in central London now?

52 per cent of all £2m+ homes in central London are bought by overseas buyers.

Who lives in central London now? Anybody who has strolled the stuccoed streets of Belgravia and the verdant squares of Mayfair will have inevitably asked this question. The streets are filled with imported supercars and the sound of foreign languages, not to mention the thoroughly un-British clothes, shops and restaurants. Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Mayfair and, to an extent, Chelsea are no longer desirable addresses for the well-to-do British, such is the extent to which their prices have been driven up by foreign buyers.

There has been a tidal wave of recent research to underpin this point. Earlier this year, Savills announced that all the property of London’s 10 most expensive boroughs are more expensive than the entire combined worth of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The capital sees more house deals in excess of £100m than anywhere in the world and in the past year.

Then, releasing its April figures, Knight Frank revealed that London’s ‘super-prime’ market had risen again – 0.7 per cent in April and 7.7 per cent over the past 12 months. This, estate agency revealed, was driven by foreign demand: 52 per cent of all £2m+ homes in central London were bought by overseas buyers from March 2012 to March 2013.

Last week, further research was published by WealthInsight that shows London contains the most multimillionaires (individuals with over $30 m) in the world and the third most billionaires after New York and Moscow. Savills say that 32 per cent of these individuals are not UK domiciled. In fact, only 45 percent of buyers in central London are UK nationals. 

Furthermore, anyone who has flicked their way through this year’s Sunday Times Rich List will have noted that most of the top 10 are not British born.

Most of this research tells us what we already know, but who are these overseas multimillionaires who are dropping £50K on an Eton Square apartment. Researching this is no easy task due to the amount of London that is owned through offshore corporate vehicles. Only after months of laborious research could Vanity Fair reveal who actually owned One Hyde Park – the capital’s most expensive condominium.

Of the research that has been published, it should come as no surprise that most overseas buyers are Russian. Knight Frank says that 33 per cent of purchasers of properties over £10m between 2010 and 2012 were Russian. In second place were Middle Eastern buyers at 15.4 percent – in 2012, buyers of properties above £10m, 6 per cent were Omani and 3 percent from both Qatar and Kuwait. Again, no surprises here to anyone who has visited Knightsbridge in the summer, a migration focal point when the heat gets too hot in the Gulf. Buyers from the US are further down the list at 7.7 per cent, but estate agents expect the number to rise significantly over the next five years as the dollar exchange continues to favour such buyers.

Predictable as this research may be, we know one thing – it is not the British who are buying central London. And, as long as prices rise, the more the central London becomes an exclusive domain available only to the capacity of international wealth.

But how long can this continue? Surely there is only so much someone can pay for a studio apartment in Belgravia and finite number of overseas shoppers. The truth is London has an international appeal not only for finance, tax and business, but also lifestyle, education and, importantly for some, political exile. As long as London retains this edge, the longer prices are set to rise.   

Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.