Luxury homes left empty

At One Hyde Park in London's swanky Knightsbridge area, only about 19 out of 80 flats are occupied, with the rest left empty or operated by obscure property shell companies.
At One Hyde Park in London's swanky Knightsbridge area, only about 19 out of 80 flats are occupied, with the rest left empty or operated by obscure property shell companies.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

It was billed as the world's most exclusive residential address, and it certainly had the price to match: When first put on the market a few years ago, the tag for a one-bedroom flat was £6 million (S$18 million at the time), while that of a penthouse was in excess of £100 million.

But although all the units were quickly sold off, One Hyde Park, a futuristic building in the heart of London's swanky Knightsbridge neighbourhood, might as well be home to ghosts. For according to the tax returns held by the local council, only about 19 out of the building's 80 flats are "occupied by individuals"; the rest are either empty or operated by obscure property shell companies whose ultimate beneficiaries are, as one local commentator put it, "known only to God".

These flats are, in effect, just investment vehicles, bought by foreigners keen to shield their cash in the rock-solid safety of Britain's property market and eager to benefit from a capital appreciation which has averaged 10 per cent each year, better than almost any other risk-free investment scheme.

Like all building projects in London, One Hyde Park is included in the British capital's annual housing construction targets. And like many others, it is available to all newcomers apart, of course, from the locals.

Jonathan Eyal

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2016, with the headline 'Luxury homes left empty'. Print Edition | Subscribe