The Crown Estate is sitting on over £800m worth of empty properties in London alone, a City A.M. investigation has revealed, exposing the scale of the developer’s property footprint in the capital.
The monarchy’s portfolio of property and land includes 312 vacant properties in the Greater London area, according to a Freedom of Information request, ranging from rooms on Regent Street and other prime central London locations to garages and commercial space.
“We’ve been saying for some time that empty publicly owned properties are an important part of the solution to the housing deficit, but the sheer total is a pretty astonishing value,” said Russell Quirk, chief executive of online estate agent eMoov.
The estate agent estimates the total value of the empty properties to be £835m, based on the average price per square foot for the post code and type of property. The vacant space could be transformed into 546 new flats in the capital, based on the size of the average London flat.
The chart below shows the value of the properties on the books (where data is available) and charts them against the period they've been empty. The size of the circles represents the amount of empty space in each property. You can also adjust the x-xis scale to tease out data on the less valuable properties using a log scale.
According to the Crown Estate, currently regenerating its vast estate at the heart of London’s shopping district, most of the buildings aren’t vacant in the traditional sense, but are either under development, already demolished, or being let.
“We operate in effect like a commercial property developer, so it’s quite natural that we’re taking back leases and redeveloping those assets,” a spokesperson said to City A.M..
He added: "The majority of the properties in question are vacant or have already been demolished as part of our £1.5bn central London redevelopment programme creating world class office and retail space"
But the developer has dozens of properties that have been empty for years. Some 46 properties have been vacant 1,000 days or more - or in other words since 2012 or longer.
Three Regent Street meeting rooms, worth nearly £800,000 in total according to eMoov, have been vacant for over 12 years, and a 6,000sq ft space on Air Street, valued at over £6.5m, has been empty since 2007.
The Crown Estate isn’t alone in sitting on vacant properties. In 2011 Conservative MP Eric Pickles highlighted that public sector bodies owned over 180,000 empty assets across England. It’s estimated that the capital alone has 22,000 empty properties. Pickles said:
The general public probably have no idea of the sheer scale and scope of property and land on the public sector’s books.
“The country is still in the grip of a housing crisis, whilst an abundance of government owned buildings lie vacant,” said Quirk, calling for local government to “get its arse in gear, quite frankly” and either develop or sell its empty assets.
"Although Mr Osborne may have his plans in place to resolve Britain’s housing issues, the fact of the matter is not enough is being done. The major issue that needs to be addressed is the severe lack of supply that is failing to match the high levels of demand, particularly in the capital."
The map below shows where the properties are - the colours are the same as those for the chart.