Who is living in the Nine Elms homes?

by Dave Hill

The vast Nine Elms redevelopment scheme has become one of those London regeneration focal points for protest and consternation about “rich foreign investors” and “luxury flats” that are “left empty” and so on. It is a prime site for property porn gawping and political outrage about shrinking quantities of affordable homes. A case can certainly be made that much about it is some distance from ideal. That said, London School of Economics researchers found something to be said for its design qualities. And as people start moving into the new properties, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider who they actually might be.

Last month, a committee of Wandsworth Council considered the results of a survey of the “newly arriving population” of Nine Elms and other riverside developments in the borough. Five Nine Elms sites were covered altogether – 334 Queenstown Road, Chelsea Bridge Wharf, Embassy Gardens, Riverlight and Veridian Apartments – plus two others nearby. Not everyone was in when doors were knocked by researchers for the company hired to do the job and the conclusions are fairly tentative. Even so, responses were obtained from 873 residents and the results are intriguing.

Here’s one of them:

The overall findings of this research indicate that the majority of households across the developments are UK citizens who are employed full time, with earnings broadly in line with the average for London. The vast majority of respondents said that their previous address was in London and stated that their home in the survey area was their only residence. In addition, the majority of children are expected to or currently attend a state school and the survey found a greater proportion of households gave this response compared with the survey undertaken in 2007.

This puts a bit of a dent in the popular perception that most of the dwellings are inhabited – or left uninhabited – by very rich people from overseas and of no use at all to ordinary Londoners. The earnings profile of the residents was not extraordinary either, with adult earners in just over half of the households having incomes of between £10,000 and £50,000 a year and 13% of households having total incomes of less than £20,000 a year.

The most common tenure type was found to be private renting. When asked about their previous addresses, 34% of respondents said it had been elsewhere in Wandsworth, 41% said another London borough, 13% said somewhere else in the UK and just 12% said somewhere abroad.

UK passport holders accounted for 60% of those surveyed, compared with 72% of Wandsworth residents in all. A further 17% were from other EU countries compared with 11%. And 11% were from the Middle East and Asia compared with a Wandsworth-wide figure of just 3%. So there is a disparity but, on the whole, not quite on the scale some might have expected. True, in the opulent Riverlight development (pictured), only 27% of residents hold UK passports. But the survey also found that all 116 housing association shared ownership flats there had been bought by local people through the council’s low cost home ownership service.

The story here looks rather like the broader one told by the LSE researchers who looked into the impacts of overseas property investment in London for Sadiq Khan. They found that its inflationary effects were limited, that “off plan” sales enabled building to start more quickly and that “buy to leave” was pretty much a myth. They also found that without such investment there would be many fewer new homes being built, including fewer for private renters and fewer “affordable” homes supplied than there are already. Yes, there are drawbacks. Yes, the financing structure of London housing development as a whole is not all we would wish it to be. But neither, it appears, is the evolving Nine Elms residential community quite what populist prejudice proclaims.

The full survey results are available at agenda item 4 here.

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