This skyscraper is a stark symbol of why London is in a housing crisis

St George Wharf Tower

Vast portions of the tallest, and one of the most expensive, residential buildings in London lie unoccupied for the majority of the year as their wealthy owners decide to live elsewhere, highlighting one of the biggest complaints about the London property market.

According to a huge investigation from the Guardian, apartments in the Tower at St. George’s Wharf in Vauxhall, are largely owned by overseas investors, with 130 of the 214 sold since the building’s completion being taken by foreign owners.

Many of these owners very rarely stay in their homes, with one owner telling the paper that “they spend as little as two months a year” in their flat.

The report sheds light on a crucial issue which, according to politicians and commentators alike, is helping fuel the London housing crisis. The huge numbers of foreign investors buying properties in London and then not actually living in them is often cited as one of the biggest issues in London’s ever troublesome property market.

Rich investors are blamed for helping push prices up, pricing out British buyers, and for encouraging developers to focus on building super luxury flats, rather than affordable housing for regular Londoners.

In the St. George’s Wharf development for example, the cheapest flat currently listed for sale online is a two-bedroom flat for £675,000. The average house price in the capital is now far in excess of £500,000, more than 16 times the average London salary, an all-time high.

It is now such a problem that newly elected mayor Sadiq Khan has made addressing foreign ownership of new homes one of his main priorities. To do this, Khan has proposed introducing measures to stop anyone but British residents buying new homes in the capital in their first six months on the market.

“There is no point in building homes if they are bought by investors in the Middle East and Asia,” he said. “I don’t want homes being left empty. I don’t want us to be the world’s capital for money laundering. I want to give first dibs to Londoners,” he said in an earlier interview with the Guardian.

St george wharf
The Tower at St. George’s Wharf prior to completion. Wikipedia/CC 2.0

Steps are also being taken to lessen the numbers of foreign investors buying London properties, especially those doing so in secret. In April, government said it plans to create a register for offshore companies buying property in the UK.

Under the plans, companies would be required to reveal who is behind them, effectively ending the secretive buying of properties from overseas. This is a huge problem, and roughly a quarter of all the properties sold in the Tower at St. George’s Wharf are owned through offshore companies based in tax havens, the Guardian reports.

While steps are being taken to address the growing issue of foreign ownership, nothing substantive is in place yet, and that means rich foreign buyers can continue unfettered. Using data from the Land Registry, the Guardian was able to establish the identities of some of the super wealthy foreign owners in the Tower. They include:

  • Billionaire and former Russian senator Andrei Guriev — Guriev is believed to own the five-storey penthouse at the top of the building. The Guardian states that Guriev bought the penthouse through Arabella Properties, a British Virgin Islands based company.
  • King Ebitimi Banigo — Banigo is a former government minister in Nigeria, who is now the king of the Okpoama region in Nigeria’s Niger delta. Banigo is thought to have bought a £2.7 million apartment.
  • Vitaly Orlov — Billionaire fisherman Orlov owns an entire floor in the tower, the Guardian reports.
  • Sharshenbek Abdykerimov — Kyrgysz politician and vodka tycoon Abdykerimov is also thought to own a flat in the building
  • Chong Meng Lai — Singaporean businessman Lai, a director of Taiwan-listed waste processing firm Cleanaway Company Limited, is believed to be selling an apartment in the complex for £2.6 million.
  • Other unnamed people alleged to own flats in the building include a Formula One racing driver, a Uruguayan football manager, an Egyptian snack-food mogul, and a Kurdish oil magnate.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the site’s developer St George said: “Although some homes in the Tower have overseas owners, it is wrong to suggest that foreign owners dominate the London market. Savills estimated that in 2013-14, non-resident overseas investors accounted for just 7% of the London residential market.”

You can read the Guardian’s full report here.

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