At night some of the plushest parts of London look like a wartime blitz blackout has been imposed, say worried councils who have spotted that an increasing number of smart new blocks of flats appear to have no inside lights on at all.
They claim a “dark London” is being created by investors who snap up the city’s new-build homes to create property portfolios with no intention of them ever being lived in.
Islington council is considering charging owners of new flats for not living in them, after discovering that in some parts of the borough half of all new homes are not registered for council tax.
The “normal” percentage of unoccupied homes in Islington is just three, it says, adding that too many overseas property investors are “buying to leave” rather than to let.
However, some estate agents have challenged the way Islington has calculated the number of empty homes in its borough. These agents claim other councils have also produced questionable statistics on empty properties by counting all those homes where no one is registered to vote, which does not mean these properties are empty, they argue.
Islington has published a discussion document called Preventing Wasted Housing Supply, insisting it is not out to block investment by foreigners, only to ensure that more of the homes they buy are used rather than left “dark”.
Developers are concerned that if other councils take Islington’s lead, it could hit major building schemes in the capital.
“While investment is essential to London’s property market in getting large-scale developments and regeneration projects off the ground, the issue of unoccupied homes needs to be addressed,” admits Gareth Jacobs, a director at Hadley Property Groups.
But he adds: “I’m not convinced this new policy is the answer. However, we are keen to work with the industry to find a suitably balanced, sustainable solution.”
Islington has responded that there is so little land available to build on in London, and such high demand from investors, that future major house-building projects in the capital are unlikely to be crushed as a result of its move.
“Everyone said the same would happen when we implemented our policy requiring all developments to be car-free. It absolutely did not,” it says.
It plans further consultation on its proposals.