Farewell Central London, we’ll take the kids and go now

Oct 21, 2013 by

There have been so many articles in the papers this week about the London housing market, Zoe Williams in the Guardian wrote about how these changes will affect London neighbourhoods, Ian Jack wrote on gentrification, and The New York Times wrote about the lacking tax implications for London property owners, making the housing market so alluring. There were many more articles about the nonsensical Osbornian “help to buy” scheme and all that it does not accomplish.  It all got me so riled up I decided it’s time to finally write my good bye letter to Central London.

My husband and I lived in Westminster for ten years; our two children were born there and we loved, loved, loved every year we lived there.  Our family was (and still is) active in two neighbourhood churches.  Over the years I volunteered at numerous playgroups, my friends and I helped campaign to retain funding for my local state nursery, my neighbours called a meeting that I chaired to learn more about a proposed foot bridge into our community square.  I feel my family made a positive contribution to our community, we shopped at local businesses and looked out for our neighbours and maintained strong relationships with our ward councillors.  I even set up a web site where I could show off how amazingly family-friendly London, but Westminster in particular, is to live.

But shortly after my son was born in 2009, tax payers were told of the paradigm shift needed to keep the earth rotating: the government would have to shrink and we would have to go with fewer services.  I noticed the staff reductions at my kids schools, class sizes were rising.  Many of the lovely museum activities I enjoyed with my eldest child just weren’t there for my second.  These were trifling concerns compared to my friends and neighbours facing serious challenges because of draconian changes to their housing benefits (we might ask Westminster how many people ended up housed, at tremendous expense, in B and B’s over the inability to pay the £14 a week for the bedroom tax).

In the midst of all this economic turmoil, our rent started to rise.  In 2007 we were paying £375 a week for a two bedroom flat  – a huge portion of our annual income, but in return we had a short, inexpensive commute, great primary schools and world-class city services. After 2008, our wages stagnated, rents begen to climb to the current rate of £500 minimum a week for a two bedroom and all the while services are threatened.

There was talk of closing Chelsea and Westminster’s A and E (instead it’s Charing Cross Hospital that will get the axe); despite our campaigning, Boris Johnston is closing our fire station.  Worse of all, the council is giving our schools over to the nepotistic, managerial brain-trust of Future Academies.  And those are “our” schools no matter how much the land underneath can be sold to developers for.

When we lost our lease on our Westminster flat last year, we took a good, hard look at Central London and read between the lines: no families wanted. The central councils don’t want us, they want the international elite who privately educate their kids, use private healthcare, and have no use for city services outside of rubbish collecting and police. They don’t want concerned mothers nagging them about the need for fire stations and A and E’s, they don’t want to answer why the 27 year old head of a primary school walked off the job or do they want neighbours to organise themselves and protest footbridges into public squares.

In my ten years as a renter in the UK, I never once paid rent to a resident of the UK – all of that money went overseas.  As far as I understand, the owner of a £2,000,000 flat might pay £120 a month in council tax and a bit of ground rent each year. No wonder the city can’t afford any services.

Does the city have any desire to deter wealthy people parking their Euros in empty London flats, buying them and leaving them empty in order to retain active citizens who participate in and support their communities?

What are your thoughts?

 

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18 Comments

  1. *Sigh* Feel your pain. So with you on this one, albeit in a different borough. x

  2. Thanks for pushing me to write about this – your post inspired be CoCo!!

  3. It’s a crying shame, not only the erosion of communities but as I was discussing with someone earlier about schools, the lack of any ‘human element’ when it comes to many of the decisions being made. It’s all about the bottom line, except half the time even that doesn’t make any sense in the long-term — if you create pockets of wealth but no real emotional investment in those areas it’s a very poor outlook. Great post, Laura x

  4. Richard Holloway

    Give it time. At the merest hint that the London property market is not a safe haven (either though taxes or through high inflation which devalues the pound) the situation could change very rapidly. The bubble is growing, and I intend to be ready to pick up the pieces when it bursts.

  5. Thanks Uju

  6. you are so right, it is a bubble – when the Euro has stabilised, the councils may try getting us back.

  7. Cheryl Jones

    Really good post Laura. You raise important, lucid points as always. Boris should be so lucky to have over for tea and hear what’s impacting families like yours right under his nose, and taking them straight out of Westminster. Where have you moved to? Yours were one of the last families I knew still there …. Hope you’re well. Cheryl xxx

  8. Grainne

    So well put – every one of them reasons and more are why I moved my family out of Central London and to the sunny sticks of Surrey. I loved every moment I lived in Westminster ( all 15 years of it) and made many great friends in my neighbourhood, I do miss it but know the move we made was the right one.

  9. We moved to a metro land suburb with good state schools, affordable housing and a quick 15 minute train into the West End. How are you doing???

  10. Westminster misses you all, another soldiering mum helping out around the community. Miss you!

  11. D.Vogel

    Lucky suburb where you moved to. They will be learning how involved you can be – to their great benefit. Westminster’s lose.

  12. Spot on Laura! families in our neighbourhood faces very similar issues. It is a huge loss when communities are stripped of their diversity – and the creativity/tolerance/harmony that comes from that – because people (particularly young families) are squeezed out by benefit cuts, shrinking public services and spiralling housing costs.

  13. The councils just don’t understand how valuable families are to a community. I do think the rich don’t vote and do complain.

  14. Bang on Laura. Community – Something, I’m afraid this government has no interest in.

  15. Lavone Gylord

    So agree with you! We are in the middle of the same dilemma right now. Mayfair is impossible to live in. While searching for a new neighborhood which area/areas you found most suitable for families? Which one you end up choosing.

    Thank you

  16. Fiona Green

    I do sympathise with you!
    In 2012 my rent shot to the absurd £450.00 a week : my landlord was from Belfast
    & tried every which way over the 30 years I was his tenant, to get me out. I lived
    in the property for 50 years, but finally as a pensioner, having raised my children
    there,I found it completely impossible to earn this money. I was a member of the
    local Housing Trust,the local Neighbourhood Association, the Charlotte Street
    Association & ran an art group at the local Soup Kitchen in a voluntary capacity.
    I miss my home & was amazed that nobody could help me. Shelter were the kindest
    but as I had somewhere to go to : I was forced to move. It is ridiculous that just 200
    yards away the new Middlesex development will house hundreds of the wealthiest
    chinese in Shanghai – temporary accomodation as a base – while they do business with
    Cameron,Osborne & the like.Meanwhile my house will remain empty until the commercial
    tenants on the ground floor lease runs out & the value of the place increases.

  17. Fiona, this is heart wrenching … what vulnerability and despair. I hope things turn around soon

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