Today when scanning the front-page headlines in my local newsagent one in particular caught my eye, and it did not surprise me to see it on the front of the Sun: “We Must Be Rental”. The story was of a jobless Somali family of nine supposedly being handed a luxury £1.8 million West End home at taxpayers’ expense. Turning to the full report on page 9, I immediately recognised the block of flats that had drawn the attention of the Sun.
Firstly, such commentary by the Sun and the other papers that took up the story is highly inflammatory. You have only to look at the email responses on the Sun message board to see what I mean, with hate-filled rants about asylum seekers and praise for the BNP. You can only imagine what the telephone messages left on the SunTalk number must be like!
As for expecting some accurate journalism, you can forget that. For example, the block of flats is neither in nor even near the West End. It has an NW1 post code. Nor is any property in the neighbourhood worth £1.8 million – the actor Sienna Miller is having enough difficulty trying to sell her propertyoff the Edgware Road a few blocks away, after dropping the price to under a million. Nor can the block of flats be described as a particularly desirable property, given that it directly backs onto the Marylebone flyover.
The block was built during the peak of the property boom in Central London, and when the developer was unable to sell any of the units it was taken over by receivers. As a result it has been lying empty for a number years. I have argued that such developments should be picked up by social landlords and rented out as social housing in a neighbourhood like this with acute housing need. I should know, having been one of the local councillors for eight years between 1998 to 2006, undertaking surgeries on Church Street where overcrowding and rehousing was the major issue. The Shirley Porter legacy had left every little council and social housing in this neighbourhood available for families in desperate need.
The real lesson to be drawn from the Sun story is that a means should be found to get this block into social ownership rather paying extortionate rents to the receiver – or anyone else taking the rent!