London to ban ‘super-size’ houses for rich

London Briefing: Global ultra-rich have poured their cash into central London property

Westminster council is taking action to make property more affordable by imposing a ban on new “super-size” properties

Westminster council is taking action to make property more affordable by imposing a ban on new “super-size” properties

 

In Westminster, one of London’s most expensive boroughs, average household income is just over £52,000 (€59,000) a year, comfortably above the national average.

But, with median house prices in the borough – which takes in Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Mayfair, St James and Regent’s Park – topping £1 million (€1.15 million), home ownership remains a distant dream for many Londoners who live there.

Now Westminster City Council is taking action to make property in the borough more affordable by imposing a ban on new “super-size” properties. It hopes that will free up space for more affordable homes.

The global ultra-rich have poured their cash into central London property in recent years, sending prices spiralling as they built larger and ever more lavish residences, which often remain vacant for much of the year.

Such has been the race for space by oligarchs and other assorted billionaires, they began tunnelling beneath their already substantial properties to construct massive basements housing swimming pools, cinemas, wine cellars, garages, staff quarters and, in one development, even an artificial beach.

The spate of subterranean construction caused huge disruption in some of London’s most exclusive streets, pitting wealthy neighbours against each other in court and raising fears over cave-ins as tonnes of earth were removed to make way for the underground palaces.

Two years ago, Westminster council clamped down on these so-called “iceberg homes”, stipulating that all residential basement developments be limited to a single storey and that they could not be built under more than 50 per cent of total garden land.

The council’s latest proposal is to ban new homes larger than 150sq m (1,615sq ft). That is still 50 per cent larger than the average three-bedroom home in the borough.

This would leave room for “generously sized” homes at the top end of the market but at the same time free up space for more modest homes for “real people”, it says.

“We want Westminster to be home to thriving, mixed communities, not empty super-prime properties,” said councillor Richard Beddoe. He said the council would also bring in a new extra bedroom policy, making it easier for growing families to stay in the borough rather than being forced to move when they need more space.

The council says it is committed to building more than 10,000 affordable homes by 2040, although cash-strapped Londoners should not hold out too much hope of being able to snap up a bargain – it is Westminster, after all.

But they will at least have more of a chance to buy in the capital if the residential space race of the global super-rich can be reined in.

Five FTSE 350 firms fail to appoint a single woman to their board

Diversity campaigners despairing at the lack of women in leadership roles like to highlight the fact that there are more chief executives called David than there are women heading FTSE 100 companies. The same is true for Stephens.

There aren’t any directors named Steve or Dave on the board of FTSE 350 company Millennium & Copthorne, but there might as well be. The hotels group has just been named and shamed by the Hampton-Alexander diversity review as one of five companies that failed to appoint a single woman to its board, despite the government’s target that one-third of board members should be women by 2020.

The other four tone-deaf companies are property group Daejan, investment trusts JP Morgan Japanese Investment and Herald Investment, along with loans company Amigo Holdings.

Amigo has just managed to find a woman for its board, although last week’s appointment of the experienced non-executive director Clare Salmon came too late for the government-backed report. The company itself hasn’t yet managed to add her name or picture to the list of male board members displayed on its corporate website.

That gives some idea of the lack of urgency shown as the 2020 diversity deadline approaches. Admittedly, the picture now is far better than it was back in 2011, when more than 150 companies had all-male boards.

Britain’s bigger companies are doing better, with FTSE 100 companies on track to meet the one-third target in two years’ time, up from 12.5 per cent in 2011.

But, although there are now just four companies without a female presence on the board, there are a further 75 that have appointed a lone woman to their board. In order to meet the target, one in two appointments to boards of FTSE 350 companies will have to be a woman.

That’s about as likely as the number of female FTSE 100 chief executives – currently totalling just six – outnumbering the Daves and Steves in the boardroom anytime soon.

Fiona Walsh is business editor of theguardian.com

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