Knowing our neighbours

private-eye-offshore-ownership-map

Neighbouring blog site, Kings Cross Environment ran a post earlier this week about local property that has been acquired by overseas companies. It was based on a Private Eye map of property ownership that used official Land Registry data. Taking their lead, I’ve spent some time this week looking at our own patch.

The most obvious conclusion is that, in comparison to the buying spree going on north of the Euston Road, the streets of Bloomsbury are a dark oasis of relative calm – even more so when compared to the bright lights covering Covent Garden and the West End.

But there are a few local landmarks that stand out. Zoom in to the area around Russell Square and you can identify Victoria House on Southampton Row, bought for £168m and Jersey registered. The Hotel Russell, valued a £42m, was sold in 2012 to part of Swiss Bank UBS, and is also registered in Jersey.

The Channel Islands are a favoured registration location for offshore owners of property in our neighbourhood. The Isle of Man crops up regularly too. But the more exotic locations also appear – British Virgin Islands, the Seychelles, Mauritius, the Marshall Islands, Hong Kong, Panama.

Does this matter? As Private Eye puts it, many of these locations are tax havens with properties held in this way for tax avoidance. The map certainly brings the national news story about the Panama Papers much closer to home, and links it the reality of what’s happening on our own doorsteps. And that was made more topical yesterday by the Prime Minister’s announcement that “foreign companies that own property in the UK will be forced to make public who really owns them”.

Will this prompt some local sales before the legislation comes in? There’s nothing to say that any of the companies behind these purchases and ownerships have done anything wrong, but as a community organisation working to better the lives of residents and small business owners in the area, it always helps to know our neighbours.

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