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Government / Local politics

Protesters in London have shut down the MIPIM property fair

Today saw the opening of the inaugural UK MIPIM international property fair. To build on the success of their annual property conference in Cannes, the organisers hoped to bring together 4,000 developers, investors and politicians in London, and, in the words of the event’s website, offer them “unrivalled access to the greatest number of development projects and sources of capital worldwide”.

Unfortunately, things haven’t really run to plan. 

From London24 at around midday:

Protesters have shut down the world’s largest property fair in Kensington Olympia, chanting ‘block Boris’ and waving banners that read ‘Homes for people, not profit’. There is a heavy police attendance at the west London site and the security grills of the building have been brought down.

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The protesters, a mix of residents, protest groups and unions, were motivated by the the growing lack of affordable and social housing in London, and the belief that international buyers are inflating prices by buying London property as investments, not homes. 

In one stunt, they built a “house of cards” from estate agents’ signs:

MIPIM’s annual Cannes conference and its role in London’s housing problem is outlined rather damningly in this piece, published by The Guardian yesterday:

It’s a jaunt so lavish as to be almost comic – where big money developers invite town hall executives for secret discussions aboard private yachts, and whose regulars boast that they get through more champagne than all the liggers at the film festival.

Suitably oiled-up, local officials open talks with multinational developers to sell council housing estates and other sites. All this networking is so lucrative for the builders that they even fly over council staff. Last year, Australia’s Lend Lease paid for Southwark’s boss, Peter John, to attend Cannes. This is the same Lend Lease to which Southwark sold the giant Heygate estate at a knockdown price: 1,100 council flats in inner London to be demolished and replaced with 2,500 units, of which only 79 will be for “social rent”.

The rich, international developers in attendance at MIPIM are particularly unpopular with the protesters because they have the funds to build developments with little or no affordable housing, despite the affordable housing minimums enforced in new London developments.That’s because these minimums come with a loophole: developers can pay councils to build affordable units or “community projects” elsewhere through something called a “section 106 agreement”, in place of including affordable units in their designs. In practice, this has meant that affordable housing is forced to cheaper areas further out, while luxury developments populate the city’s centre.

So far, the reaction to the protests from London’s city government has been a little brusque. According to Property Week, Mayor Boris Johnson called the protesters “xenophobic” for their attitudes to international buyers in a statement earlier today, and said putting off international buyers is a “bad answer” to London’s housing problem.

MIPIM’s organisers responded to protesters in a statement this afternoon:

The event brings together public and private sector organisations committed to providing new housing of all types as well as thousands of new jobs.

The conference is due to run until Friday – let’s hope today’s shutdown hasn’t thrown any champagne receptions off schedule.   
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