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Battersea Development Co's cosy Tory links

One of London's most iconic buildings is set to become a ghetto for the obscenely rich - and the property firm behind this is keen to ensure the political outcry is minimal. SOLOMON HUGHES reports

We are in a housing crisis - the council houses were flogged off and councils were not allowed to build new ones. Rents are uncontrolled and soaring. Property developers would rather make money selling luxury flats to a small number of "high net worth" individuals than building decent, affordable houses for many families. The young are imprisoned in "generation rent." Families are stuck in substandard houses with painfully long commutes to work.

The way out of a housing shortage is simple - build more houses. Government money invested in houses would both create homes for working people, jobs for the jobless and assets for the nation. It would be a much more useful investment than the cash spent on bailing out crooked banks.

We need social housing not luxury housing. But unfortunately the luxury builders have got a lot of cash and they are willing to spend it to buy political friends.

Take London's Battersea Power Station redevelopment. Battersea stopped generating electricity in 1983 and has sat like a big, brooding, brutal Art Deco temple on the Thames ever since.

Its "upside-down table" look generates a lot of affection. Its many cultural resonances include appearing under a massive inflatable pig on a Pink Floyd album cover.

The building catches the eye partly because it is a rare piece of industrial architecture in a London skyline dominated by offices and flats and shops. Inevitably it will now be turned into flats, offices and shops by Malaysian developer SP Setia.

Even though the deal has been signed and the planning permission awarded, the Battersea Power Station Development Company was working very hard to buy political pals.

It was all over the last Tory conference. The firm rented a big expensive stand to show delegates a scale model of its glamorous redevelopment of the power station.

Before its conference displays, in June 2013, the Battersea Power Station Development Company hired Lord Strathclyde (pictured) as a senior adviser.

Lord Strathclyde - aka Thomas Galbraith - was on the Tory front bench for 25 years.

Margaret Thatcher made him an industry spokesman in 1988 and up until January 2013 he was Tory leader in the Lords, a post that made him one of David Cameron's key Cabinet ministers.

Then he resigned, saying he wanted to return to his "working life in the private sector." The Battersea job is one of the ponds this big Tory fish has flopped into.

I was a little confused by this very obvious lobbying, as the Malaysian-backed Battersea Development Company already had planning permission.

But last November the first flats in the Battersea development came on the market - at £30 million each.

The housing crisis makes this kind of announcement look sick, so it looks like developers are mobilising politically to neutralise an expected outcry.

The very cheapest flats in the development will be £500,000 each. Even the Daily Express was moved to call it a "ghetto for the rich" attracting the international jet set and "keeping local buyers out."

The Express also pointed out that the ugly apartment towers to be built around the site will actually cover up the iconic power station and "obscure much of the building they are designed to save."

There are no "affordable" homes at all in the current development. In the final phase, some 500 "affordable" houses will be tucked away among the 3,400 expensive flats and houses. With even right-wing papers attacking the development, you can see why the development company wants to buy political friends.

Battersea is just one of many luxury development companies lobbying the Tories, donating to their funds, holding events at their conferences and hiring their ex-ministers.

It helps to distort housing policy. We end up with a punishment of luxury - the poor get punished for the luxury of the rich, struggling with a housing shortage while "high net worth" individuals can flit from penthouse to townhouse to country house. It also has an odd side effect. While Cameron would probably like to impose economic sanctions on Russia to show Britain has a role on the world stage, he has a powerful economic lobby telling him to do no such thing.

His City friends tell him "no sanctions" because they rely on oligarchs' cash. But so do his luxury developer friends because the oligarchs, along with the Middle Eastern sheikhs, are the big customers for £30 million London properties.

 

Around 150 care workers ended a seven-day strike in Doncaster at the start of this month.

They voted for another week's strike, which may be called soon. The women and men work as carers, visiting the disabled and sick in their homes.

To reward them for this socially useful work, the huge private company that runs local care services has decided to cut their wages.

By cutting evening and weekend allowances, Care UK will slash its employees' already modest wages by up to a half.

Care UK is a huge firm with a turnover in excess of £400 million - almost all coming from the state.

It is owned by a private equity company called Bridgepoint. Bridgepoint likes to pay some of the money it earns from Care UK on staff - not on the actual care workers but on "influential" staff.

Bridgepoint hired former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn as an "adviser." In essence, the Doncaster care workers are on strike against Milburn, who is so new Labour that he believes in enriching himself by cutting their wages.

The Doncaster Care UK workers, who are members of Unison, are standing up for themselves but also against the privatising, profit-driven, cost-cutting approach to social care.

You can send messages of support and ask about making donations to the strike fund at admin@unison-dab.org.uk

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