Knightsbridge billionaires told to live in their empty London homes — or leave

Hailed as the smartest part of town, Knightsbridge is also the “buy-to-leave” heartland of London and the council is seeking ways to make wealthy owners “live in” or move on.
It contains London’s most expensive block of flats, the world’s most famous shop, Princess Diana’s favourite restaurant and the homes of hundreds of A-listers.
 
So with sassy One Hyde Park, Harrods and San Lorenzo on your doorstep in Knightsbridge, the smartest part of town, it comes as a shock to discover that nobody lives there.
 
It emerged today, in a report by Kensington and Chelsea council, that the streets just south of Harrods are the “buy-to-leave” heartland of London. It is here that billionaires sink their savings into property then turn off the lights and trot off on their global travels while their London homes sit there making  money — year after year as their property prices soar.
 
Kensington and Chelsea council is so concerned about this neglected community that it is considering making permanent occupation of new homes a condition of granting planning consent for future developments. 

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It calculates that as many as one in four homes in parts of the elite neighbourhood, which includes Sloane Street, Hans Place and Cadogan Square, could be largely uninhabited.
 
Many belong to overseas buyers, whose enthusiasm for prime central London real estate has pushed up prices beyond the reach of most domestic buyers over the past five years.
 
“The combined effect of overseas investment into property within the Royal Borough is to increase prices while decreasing the number of households who reside here,” complained Quentin Marshall, chairman of the council’s housing and property scrutiny committee.
 
In a report on the phenomenon, Marshall recommends the council consider a series of measures to combat “buy to leave” including increasing council tax rates for empty properties and offering small cash incentives to bring them back into use — although the impact this would have on the behaviour of millionaires and billionaires is doubtful.
 
More controversially, the council is also investigating how to use the planning system to prevent new homes being left empty. It is considering insisting, as a condition of granting planning permission for new developments and refurbishments, that the home is subsequently permanently occupied.
 
The council has already sought legal advice, and believes the proposal would stand up in court.
 
“It is not considered there is any in-principle reason why such controls cannot be introduced,” says Marshall. “Subject to there being evidence which demonstrates that buy to leave is a genuine issue … a policy seeking to restrict the incidence of the phenomenon … [would be] … lawful.”

 
Buying agent Rachel Thompson, a partner at The Buying Solution, agrees that the area is hugely popular as a second-home — or third-, fourth- or fifth-home — location with buyers.
 
“It is particularly popular with those from the Middle East who want to be within spitting distance of Harrods, but they are only here for a month a year.”
 
Lavish developments in the area include One Hyde Park with its £20 million-plus flats and the Bulgari Residences, which are famously used as occasional crash pads by overseas owners.
 
Thompson estimates that “second-hand” homes in the area cost between £2,500 to £3,000 per sq ft — or about £3 million for a 1,000 sq ft flat.

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