Thursday, 22 August 2013

From Soapsuds Island to the Money Laundry of the World? Wornington Green Blog 6

'Soapsuds Island', Kensal Town next to the canal
In the mid-19th century, there were so many washer-women operating in Kensal Town, North Kensington, that it was called ‘Soapsuds Island’. It was a very poor area of little hovels, and the home-based hand laundries served the great houses of Kensington. Just months ago the last vestige of this business, White Knight Laundry, moved away, a victim of rising rents and punitive parking charges and fines.

As businesses and families who have survived generations of change are squeezed out, what is replacing them? First the ‘slums’ and overcrowded tenements were replaced with housing estates, now the first poorly maintained and overcrowded post-war estate – Wornington Green – is facing demolition and replacement with ‘an exciting new urban quarter’.

So who can afford to buy the outrageously overpriced flats and houses on offer, that as we have seen in my previous five blogs are of dubious quality, to put it politely? With house price to earnings ration of 27:1, it's not our people.
Brilliant graph by Oliver Rivers, click to enlarge

Lovely Pepler House patio gardens
This (left) is what you see when you leave your front door in the ‘old’ estate.

The gardens are well used and well loved, you can see your neighbours or have a bit of privacy. There is light and space.

Scene from 'The Shining'
The new homes however aren’t even very nice. This is what greets you when you leave the ‘exciting new urban quarter’. A dark and featureless corridor that looks like a cheap hotel or a scene from a horror film.

Well, IF we are to believe Simon Jenkins – and who am I to doubt him? – these buyers are NOT the upwardly aspirational younger generation of local people, whose grandparents and parents sweated and slaved hand-washing linen or with three menial jobs to get them through school and uni into professional careers – the people whom Catalyst and the Council tried to persuade us they were catering for. No siree.

Jenkins tells us (1): ‘We hear that 90 per cent of the top 10 per cent of London houses go to foreigners but nobody really knows who is behind the faceless companies or offshore trusts. All that is likely is that this is tax-dodge money, funk money, Arab money, Russian money, laundered money, money so infinitely dodgy that no authority dares look at it. London is a tax haven down to its very kerbs. It is the Dubai of Europe.’

With central London housing now reputedly four times more valuable than offices, the City of London, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea face becoming not just vast housing estates but empty ones. They see their employment base squeezed not in favour of those needing a house but those needing a bank, one that asks no questions and makes no charges.’

And then again in March (2): 'It was reported yesterday that half a billion pounds’ worth of property in these boroughs was bought in the Knightsbridge and Kensington area last year by Greeks and Italians alone. I would guess 90 per cent of it is empty, carrying negligible council tax and no other forms of impost, until this year not even stamp duty.

'What is fuelling soaring property prices in central London is laundered money, drugs money, redirected aid money, funk money from the eurozone, money stolen from the Russian people. The property market is clearing streets of their residents to attract this cash. It is erecting tower blocks of luxury flats along the Thames, which will stand as “fiscal launderettes” that are empty of occupants.

'These properties are not sublet. They pump no money into the local economy. They are Midas properties, a banquet of solid gold that is uneatable by anyone. Boris Johnson’s theory that these people are “bringing wealth to London” is laughable. They are stashing it here, that is all.’


  1. Local residents who attended the "launch party" watched with horror as estate agents bought up whole swathes of these properties, maybe for buy-to-let, maybe to sell on to foreign investors. In despair, they decided just to get drunk on the free flowing champagne and give up their aspiration to buy just one flat to enable them to down size or buy a local home for a grown up child.

    1. Let's find out who has bought them! There are ways.

  2. This Emma, is one of my concerns about the plans for Tottenham. Not that they will succeed. I don't think they will because the property speculators, and gullible politicians who've swallowed their hype, haven't understood the social forces at work here.

    But while they're trying to engineer social clearance to recreate Stoke Newington in Tottenham, a lot of poorer residents are likely to be displaced or at least have their areas suffer planning-blight.

    A further consequence is that the post-riot money coming to Tottenham will be used to subsidise social clearance rather than be used more intelligently. Another wasted opportunity.

    For me, a very frustrating aspect is that most people who are Labour supporters, members and councillors refuse even to accept that this view could be/may be accurate. Which leaves the local Council and GLA repeating the same solutions which failed in the past. While blinkered to the very real dangers for existing residents. And actively or implicitly supporting the worst developers, land-grabbers, and slum landlords.

    Maybe they would start to 'get it' if they saw what's happening in North Kensington? Or maybe they would still delude themselves into seeing it as "natural", "organic" regeneration; rather than as a deliberate policy to change an area's social make-up.

    Alan Stanton
    Tottenham Hale resident and ward councillor
    Former Tottenham Labour Party Constituency Secretary

    1. Alan, if you'd like to arrange a Saturday visit, I'd be delighted to show them around and explain what's happening here. Just let me know and we'll find a suitable date.


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