One of the main complaints of some of the “Leave” voters was that Britain is a “small island” and it is “full up.” Immigration “puts pressure” on local services such as hospitals and schools, but, most importantly, on local housing.
Even Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary, said immigration was putting pressure on the housing sector.
Intriguingly, however, it seems the kind of foreigner whom the UK government welcomes is the foreigner who buys homes but never lives in them – the foreign investor.
Forests of cranes rise above London in various places, building the so-called “luxury” flats in “prime” locations — in many cases, tiny studio flats with a shower cabin, a small fridge and no storage space.
To make way for them, council properties housing thousands of less well-off Londoners have been demolished, their occupants scattered on the outskirts of London (the lucky ones) or even to cities and towns elsewhere in England.
Perhaps the most famous example is the Heygate Estate, in Elephant and Castle. Until 2014, when it was demolished, it was the home of 3,000 people.
The developer started selling the new flats that were going to be built in its place right away. Only, they weren’t offered to Londoners first, but to Singaporeans, according to a report by Vice.
Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International warned in a report earlier this year that more than £4.2 billion worth of properties in London were bought with suspicious wealth.
The organisation also carried out a survey of Londoners and found that 54% of respondents believe wealthy foreign investors were one of the leading factors behind rising house prices. Not immigrants.
The government finally launched a consultation regarding introducing a public register that would reveal the beneficial owners of properties held in companies that are controlled from overseas.
It sounds like a step in the right direction, but for a long time the government has not done anything to stop the inflows of foreign, and often dubious, money that has poured into London property.
I really doubt it will take tough action now, when uncertainty following the Brexit vote will bring an economic slowdown.
Foreign investors will continue to be welcome to London’s property market, while Londoners will keep having to find creative solutions to the housing crisis.
But at least, the Brexit vote means the government will no longer be able to blame immigration for the dire state of the housing market.