Evening Standard 2002 - Who owns London?

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Fri Aug 12 14:46:00 BST 2016

Who owns London?

The question who owns London used to be easy to 
answer: Royals and aristocrats. But, as new 
research reveals, a modern breed of entrepreneur 
has discovered that there is gold in bricks and 
mortar. They have been busy buying up London 
regardless of recession, understanding the 
long-term gain to be had in purchasing valuable 
freeholds and becoming multi-millionaires in the process.

These new players now collectively own more than 
250 acres of our city, worth more than £2 
billion, says Kevin Cahill, whose book Who Owns 
Britain is he says, "the first detailed look at 
land ownership in modern times".

Here, we look at the top three Establishment 
landowners as well as the richest of the self-made property barons.

So far the newcomers have failed to shake the 
richest of London's landowners off the top of the 
wealth table. The Duke of Westminster, the Queen 
and the Earl of Cadogan are still London's top 
landowners, holding nearly 700 acres of central-London land between them.


Number one

What he owns: 300 acres of Mayfair and Belgravia, 
worth £10 billion by Cahill's calculation.

Lowdown: Gerald Grosvenor, the sixth Duke of 
Westminster and the current head of the Grosvenor 
family, is the richest man in Britain, according 
to Forbes Global magazine's list of the world's billionaires.

Grosvenor's London holdings include Eaton Square 
in Belgravia, which is one of the city's smartest 
addresses. The estate still owns the freeholds of 
most of its Mayfair and Belgravia properties, 
despite legislation passed in 1993 giving 
residents of blocks of flats the right to buy 
their freeholds. The Duke of Westminster resigned 
from the Conservative Party over this law change.

To date, Grosvenor has sold only 185 freeholds, 
although it says its approach to requests to 
enfranchise has changed. "We just get on with it," says a spokesman.


Number two

What it owns: around 265 acres across London, 
including Regent Street, Regent's Park, much of 
clubland around St James's and Pall Mall, and 
holdings in Kensington, Holborn and the City.

According to Cahill it is worth £6 billion. 
However, the Crown Estate says its London 
holdings have an open-market value of £2.5 
billion, arguing that Cahill's figure ignores 
variations on leases, low ground rents and other 
factors that reduce the value of property to the estate.

Lowdown: the Crown Estate is part of the Queen's 
hereditary possessions, but profits go to the 
Exchequer. Its freeholds include properties in 
Kensington Palace Gardens, the exclusive street 
leading up to Kensington Palace where, currently, 
a property is on the market for £85 million.

The estate can and has sold off freeholds to 
residents, with the exception of properties near 
the Royal parks and palaces. This includes 
properties overlooking Regent's Park, Richmond 
Green and around Eltham Palace. Anthony Bickmore, 
director of the Estate's urban estates division, 
says: "If properties are part of the form of a 
park or palace, we won't sell them off."


Number three

What it owns: 90 acres of Chelsea and 
Knightsbridge worth £3 billion, according to 
Cahill. Cadogan says its holdings had a book 
value of £1.54 billion in December 2001 and that 
Cahill ignores the impact of long leases and low 
ground rents in reducing property values.

Lowdown: the eighth Earl Cadogan succeeded to the 
title and inherited the estate in 1997. Cadogan 
is freeholder of both Peter Jones (which pays a 
fixed rent of just £6,000 a year) and Harvey 
Nichols (which pays £3.5 million a year in rent on its 30-year lease).

The estate has also bought the 10 acres of the 
former Duke of York's territorial army barracks 
in the King's Road for £94 million and is 
planning a mixed development of shops, offices 
and flats. Half the estate is residential, says 
chief executive Stuart Corbyn, and so far 
residents of 250 flats and houses have bought 
their freeholds. Another 100 or so residents are 
sitting tight on secure tenancies, paying tiny rents.


Number seven

What he owns: Soho stretches across approximately 
140 acres and Raymond owns almost half of them. 
This pushes his wealth past the £1 billion mark.

Lowdown: Paul Raymond, 75, is the biggest new 
player on the landowning scene since the 1950s. 
He started his career washing dishes for £1 a 
week before opening the Raymond Revue Bar in 1958 
and creating a soft-porn empire. "Raymond is a 
big figure at public auctions," says Cahill. "He 
owns more than 330 freeholds and he's one of the 
most successful men in modern London who isn't an aristocrat."

Raymond generates a large income from rents on 
commercial property in Soho, says Marc Thorne of 
Sunrise Publishers, which specialises in 
publishing details of the wealth of individuals and companies.


Number nine

What they own: Fifty acres across London worth an 
estimated £750 million, through William Pears 
Family Holdings, as well as a network of subsidiaries.

Lowdown: Mark Pears is one of three brothers who 
run a firm started by their mother. They are 
understood to own 20,000 freeholds (houses and 
blocks of flats), collecting ground rents from 
long leaseholders and rents from short-term and protected tenants.

Six years ago a Pears company, St Ermin, hit the 
headlines when it tried to increase the rent of 
low-income tenants in Graham Mansions, Hackney, 
by 300 per cent in return for installing modern 
bathrooms. Thorne says: "The family is quite 
private, but they give a lot to charity."


Number 12

What he owns: Forty-five acres across London, 
worth £450 million, through a network of property companies.

Lowdown: Chris Lazari is a Greek Cypriot who 
arrived in Britain in the 1970s. He started work 
in a sweatshop in Finsbury Park before buying his 
first property. "He bought one house, then the 
house next door, then the whole street," says Cahill.

He now owns commercial and residential property 
in Mayfair and Baker Street, as well as two acres along Tottenham Court Road.


Number 16

What he owns: 35 acres across London worth £350 
million through a complex web of 156 companies.

Lowdown: the Freshwaters, who are Orthodox Jews, 
came to Britain in the 1920s. Benzion, 53, is the 
current head of the dynasty; his father, Osias, 
made his fortune in the post-war housing boom 
after building up a successful textile business. 
The family has a reputation for being secretive; 
and is generous to Jewish charities.

Owners of leasehold flats in blocks owned by 
Freshwater have clashed over service charges and 
management, while problems in one block were raised in Parliament in 1997.

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