What's so bad about fried chicken shops in Seoul and London?

Policy-makers in London and South Korea want to crack down on fried chicken shops, but for two very different reasons

Earlier this week, South Korean officials ordered that restaurant franchises are no longer allowed to open two restaurants within 800 metres of each other. Fried chicken restaurants are a particular target, because around 7,400 are opened in the country every year.

The sharp rise in the number of fried chicken shops has been worrying officials in London too. There are 8,000 fast food outlets in the capital, or one for every 1,000 people, and fried chicken shops are especially popular. In the London Borough of Newham, for instance, there are over 70 chicken shops. Our chicken shop mania has even inspired an unimaginatively named (but genuinely inspired) documentary, The Fried Chicken Shop.

In November 2012 last year the Mayor of London Boris Johnson called on local authorities to help curb Londoners’ appetite for fast food, and around the country some local authorities are trying to clamp down on fast food shops serving school children on their lunch breaks.

Boris Johnson's primary concern is Londoners’ expanding waist lines and poor health, while in South Korea the bigger problem is economic. Every year in South Korea around 5,000 chicken shops go out of business, which policy-makers fear is contributing to the country’s rising household debt. In contrast, Londoners’ appetite for fried chicken is seemingly (and dangerously) limitless – you regularly see two fried chicken shops within metres of one another, and both seem to doing a roaring trade. Our love for fatty foods means the UK's fast food industry contributes around £4bn a year to the national economy. South Korean fried chicken-eaters just can't keep up with UK appetites, which is good for national health, but bad for the economy.

As The Economist points out this week, whether fried or roasted, chicken consumption can tell us something about the state of the global economy. Around the world, chicken consumption is growing 2.5 per cent a year and is predicted to overtake pork as the most popular meat. This is because as emerging economies become wealthier, more families are able to afford meat, and, as the cheapest meat, chicken is the most popular choice.

In developing countries increased chicken consumption is consequently a positive economic indicator, but in the UK this is less obviously the case. Taste and ability to soak up alcohol aside, the relative cheapness of chicken helps explains the rising popularity of fried chicken shops in the UK at a time when household budgets are shrinking.

 

A fried chicken outlet near Lewisham high street. Photo:Getty

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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