It has been several weeks since the awful tragedy of Grenfell Tower in west London. It remains on the news for many reasons. The first is undoubtedly the sheer terror and the terrible impact it had on the immediate area. But it now has national significance too, because many, many other tower blocks have the same design flaw. Only yesterday, we learned that a famous hospital in Oxford was proposing to close a major unit for a whole year to remove flammable cladding. Not a few eyebrows were raised at that prospect: Salford council are ripping off cladding in days, not years. It sounded just like another case of health and safety gone mad.
And today, a new story. The context for this one is that so many families were affected by the fire that there just isn’t enough social housing in the area to house them. This might be true on the surface, but the key word is social. There is plenty of housing, but, this being London’s poshest borough, it is mainly private and far too good to house mere council tenants.
In such embers, you have the ingredients for another fire between the classes, and between our two main parties. Even better, for those of us who live and breathe news, the list of private people who own all these homes has been sent (in error) to The Guardian.
Drum roll please, for some of the highlights:-
- A Ukrainian billionaire wanted for crimes in the USA
- Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg
- A Ukrainian oligarch who bought Brompton Road tube station for £53 million only to leave it vacant since 2014
- The list goes on, and on.
The reason this is a long list is that there are no fewer than 1,652 properties which are stone cold empty. Nobody is suggesting that the rich should be kicked out of their homes to help the poor. These are investments, some of them known to be money laundering scams, which are empty. 603 of them have been empty for more than two years.
By its own admission, The Guardian admits some of the information is demonstrably duff. But most of it is not. Whether this list was sent in error or as part of a planned leak, it is hot stuff. Who owns what in Britain is normally a closely guarded secret. Primarily because so damn few people own so much of the country, especially in London. The Guardian have yet to publish the detailed list, so we have only these juicy highlights to read today. But this scandal is very painful for the ruling party, and an, ahem, goldmine for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
The UK Guardian: Names of wealthy empty-home owners in borough revealed