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Camden and Haringey MPs demand end to secretive offshore property sales

PUBLISHED: 16:35 26 September 2016 | UPDATED: 17:24 26 September 2016

Camden MPs Tulip Siddiq (right) and Keir Starmer, who supported Owen Smith, and Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West, who remained loyal to Mr Corbyn

Camden MPs Tulip Siddiq (right) and Keir Starmer, who supported Owen Smith, and Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West, who remained loyal to Mr Corbyn

Archant

Local MPs have overwhelmingly backed calls for the government to make historic changes to end the secrecy surrounding offshore property sales.

The Ham&High has this month revealed the shocking scale of money invested in local property by anonymous offshore companies.

Our investigation has shown more than £2.5billion has been spent buying houses, shops, office blocks and land in local postcodes in Camden, Haringey and Barnet from 2010 to 2014.

It is a trend that has seen local buyers priced out by the deep pockets of offshore investors and some of our community’s most treasured pubs forced to close their doors after being snapped up by speculators.

To add insult to injury, community campaigners say they are forced to fight planning battles with unknown offshore owners who are not required to reveal their identity to the Land Registry.

Local Labour MPs have this week joined the Ham&High to call for reforms to end the secrecy.

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said: “I have no reservations in saying that local people should get first refusal on buying properties in the capital.

“House prices are being artificially inflated by offshore trusts snapping up new properties, and the government’s lack of action is testament to their inability to deal with the housing crisis.”

She called for government to make good on its pledge to set up a public register of beneficial ownership for foreign companies that buy property in the UK, as announced by David Cameron in May.

For the first time this would end the secrecy surrounding offshore sales that means even law enforcement are unable to indentify the owners of secretive shell companies registered in offshore havens.

Keir Starmer QC, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said reform was “vitally important” and the level of offshore sales had reached “staggering proportions”.

“I congratulate the Ham&High for uncovering the scale of offshore ownership of Camden’s housing,” he said. “Theresa May must act without delay on this undertaking.

“It is not just a question of providing homes for local people, but also of depriving our communities of important local amenities like our great old pubs.”

Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West said her constituency had an “urgent shortage of homes” and the offshore gold rush was contributing to the problem.

“Offshore property sales are far too easy, pushing prices up for local people and often allowing homes to remain empty for years as ‘golden brick’ investments,” she said.

“A publicly available register of property ownership is a basic first step to tackling this growing problem.”

If a register is established it would mark a historic change in the law forcing overseas owners to declare their identity when they buy UK property.

The government has been accused of dragging its feet over the issue in the past.

Anti-corruption group Transparency International said the law change would lead to a fairer system.

“It would mean there would be much more transparency, so people would be able to know who owns the properties in their borough,” said Rachel Davies, head of advocacy and research.

WHAT DID THE LOCAL MPS SAY?

- Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn:

“The current lack of regulation on this kind of property acquisition is intolerable, and is pricing Londoners out of a future in their city.”

- Keir Starmer QC, MP for Holborn and St Pancras:

“As London Mayor Sadiq Khan said when announcing his housing strategy, there is no point in building homes if they are bought by investors in the Middle East and Asia.

“He is right; it is vitally important that the government lives up to its promise of establishing a register of beneficial ownership for foreign companies who own or buy property in Britain.”

- Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green:

“A publicly available register of property ownership is a basic first step to tackling this growing problem, as is the charging of full council tax on empty properties.”

* Do you have a story for the investigations unit? Contact Emma Youle on emma.youle@archant.co.uk or 020 7433 0122.

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