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Comment: communities need buy to live

PUBLISHED: 17:30 20 April 2017

Highgate Court on Archway Road, where homes are being bought by local people who plan to live there

Highgate Court on Archway Road, where homes are being bought by local people who plan to live there

Archant

Buy to leave apartments in new build developments convert corrupt cash into clean assets, decimating local communities in the process. So it’s heartening to see Highgate Court lead the way with homes for local people

The Easter bank holiday usually serves as a stinging reminder of my particular pet peeve. No matter how quaint a high street or strong a community vibe, I simply can’t condone prefacing a part of this sprawling city with the moniker ‘village’.

For me, the main feature of a village is less-than-splendid isolation, stranded far from culture and civilisation. When your nearest decent pint is a half hour drive or an hour long hike away the bright city lights have never looked more appealing. But visiting is always a golden opportunity to catch up on gossip, and no sooner have I set down my suitcase I’m roped into baking a cake for some village event or other.

When Londoners talk about the feel of the village, what they’re really talking about is the sense of community afforded by being able to put down roots, raise a family and retire without having to hare about from pillar to post in search of affordable housing.

Part of the uptick in the trend for buying in to the village fantasy centres on anxieties around the very real impact on communities that house prices are having.

Postcode loyalty isn’t just an affectation. What I’ve learned since living and working in this part of the city is that the sense of affinity for the place you were born and raised is just as strong as in a rural village. Residents of Hampstead and Highgate can trace their families back for generations, and estate agents pride themselves on earning the loyalty of local people for centuries. Rocketing house prices have put this way of life under threat.

Often, gentrification also means fragmentation, with communities broken up as younger people looking to get on the ladder find themselves priced out of their stomping grounds, whilst those looking to downsize get stuck in a house that’s tipped over the top bracket of stamp duty.

Far from being a solution, new build developments can become a hindrance rather than a help when it comes to housing a village.

The negative impacts on a community when overseas investors buy up an entire new block were highlighted in the latest report from Transparency International UK, the amusing title ‘Faulty Towers’ belying the serious subject matter.

New builds can be a magnate for corrupt cash.

Money moved through offshore companies finds itself transformed into off plan apartment sales, driven by shadowy figures seeking to squirrel away funds due to fears about corruption in their country of origin, or to quietly clean their ill gotten gains.

Tower blocks can become little more than shiny money laundrettes, and when properties are bought as an asset the owners often leave them empty in order to preserve their condition and allow them to be sold at a moments notice to release funds. These buy to leave homes stand empty as local businesses suffer and local people are forced to leave.

The report identified St John’s Wood and Hampstead as vulnerable to asset parking, whilst data obtained from the 250 City Road development in next door Islington shows that fewer than 14 per cent of properties in the development were bought by someone with a UK address.

So it was genuinely heartening to visit the site of the Highgate Court one sunny day last week to discover a development that is putting community first and championing buy to live over buy to leave.

Every sale in the Bellway development so far has gone to a local buyer, proving popular with first time buyers and downsizers alike. All but one of the properties available through Help to Buy has gone too, impressive given the embarrassingly low uptake across the city for the soon-to-be scrapped government scheme.

With the current age range of the owners running from late twenties to early seventies, it’s safe to say that it will be a diverse bunch in the striking, sandy coloured blocks with views over the trees and rooftops of Highgate.

They’ve even been making friends whilst the construction has been underway. A team of builders descending on a residential area with the attendant dust, noise and heavy machinery is often unwelcome, but gestures such as carefully working around mature trees and builders getting involved with local charity fundraisers at the church that abuts the site (and building them a new vicarage) go a long way when you’re living cheek-by-jowl. It doesn’t hurt that the congregation have been hopefully eyeing up the apartments, either.

Other developers take note: it takes a village to build community.

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