The lie of the land in Somers Town
18 June, 2020 — By John Gulliver
A detail from the Brill Place planning agreement
NOTHING brings home the true nature of a deal than to see it in print. And there it was this week when a contact sent me the detailed planning application for the monstrous tower block being imposed on the people of Somers Town which we reported last week. A phrase filters mischievously through my mind: Somers Town Lives Matter.
Or do they?
The land in Brill Place has been sold and leased by the council to a company known as Brill Place Ltd with the help of a bank acting as mortgagee, known as Investic Bank – and the new owner of this part of Somers Town is an offshore company registered in St Helier, Jersey.
Last week an application for 14 more luxury flats in the luxury block was approved by the planning committee which was split down the middle – Labour in favour, the Conservatives and Lib-Dem against. In short, Labour, once a party of the people, accepting the sale, reputedly for £17m, and an amended plan, to a tax-avoiding company – while the traditional parties of the Right acted as our saviours.
I am not surprised Labour saw nothing morally wrong in selling the people’s land to an offshore company because the ones in charge at present cannot see anything wrong in disposing of land belonging to the people of Camden who are its true owners. It is their taxes that paid for it. If Labour want to act as a property dealer, buying and selling land and properties, then they should seek permission from the people through, at least, say, a referendum.
I objected with similar arguments to the sale of the land to the adjoining site now occupied by the Francis Crick Institute. But at least on that occasion, it could be argued – quite cogently, perhaps – that “The Crick” is a great medical institute carrying out research on behalf of the public, and therefore is acting for the public good.
Not so with the company that will sell scores of flats for 1, 2, or 3 million pounds in the new tower block. The proceeds from the original sale will go to the council in liquid cash and in other concomitant deals but the cash, certainly, will go, as all liquid cash goes, into the mix.
Those who are steering the present buy-and-sell programme at the Town Hall, forget one thing: land in London is limited and therefore of great value, and should be bought, not sold.
The great Victorian municipalities in the north knew this and built magnificent edifices, as did, the Labour finance chief John Mills in the 1970s; he bought properties worth millions for Camden now worth several times their original price.
In a strange way, morality was thus combined with hard capitalist economics for the benefit of the nation.