James Thomson is a common councillor in the City of London. Rather than being in any way independent, this immensely rich local authority acts as a front for the finance industry and as a part of that funds property development lobby group The Housing & Finance Institute (HFI). The former head of City of London council Mark Boleat is the chair of this group, and James Thomson is on its board. We’ve previously dealt with Boleat’s report for the HFI calling for the abolition of local democracy when it comes to planning, so here we’ll focus on Thomson. Given that Thomson is CEO of Keepmoat, which is a founding member of the HFI, it is hardly surprising that what he has to say to the press and how his company spends its lobbying loot chimes perfectly with the agenda of the HFI. This is all about maximising financial gain for developers and treating housing as a money making machine rather than something to which everyone should have access as a human right.
“It’s worrying to see just how much tougher things have become, particularly since 2000, with the research showing house prices have risen by over £55,000 and the average deposit has increased significantly from £12,988 in 2000 to £20,622 today,” said James Thomson, CEO of Keepmoat Homes, which commissioned the research.
“It isn’t surprising that the research revealed 69 per cent of people think it’s now harder than ever to buy a home.”…
“The situation for first-time buyers has become increasingly difficult but there are positive things happening too,” Mr Thomson said. “This includes the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, which has already helped many people onto the property ladder, and the recent abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers.
First time buyers average age has risen by seven years since the 1960s, survey finds by Gemma Francis, The Independent, 7 March 2018.
Here Thomson poses as a concerned observer but actually what he really cares about is corporate profits. The UK has an inflated and overheated housing market and rather than redressing that, Help to Buy makes matters worse and adds millions to the profits of companies like Keepmoat. House prices need to be deflated, not propped up with Help to Buy subsidies. Abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers simply frees them up to spend a tad more money on a property. While a grasping building firm boss or property developer might see something positive in these things, few others will since they effectively keep the genuinely affordable housing we need out of reach of the many.
Thomson, Boleat and the HFI, pretend that policies that make matters worse are solutions to problems they’ve had a hand in creating. It is easy enough to see through such double-speak. The only things the policies these lobbyists put forward are designed to increase is the wealth gap between the rich and the poor, and a supply of ghost homes that are treated not as housing but a financial instrument. Increasing the housing supply does nothing to solve the problem of homelessness if what’s build are luxury flats that are bought as investments and left empty. At a City of London planning committee meeting last year both Thomson and Boleat voted in favour of Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development; this will replace 110 social housing units with 99 over-priced luxury apartments and with no on site social or affordable housing. This demonstrates exactly where both men are coming from on housing issues. It’s all about putting money-making before social need. It’s always the same old tuneless song from Thomson, Boleat and the HFI. Take, for example, this media bite:
Keepmoat Homes chief executive James Thomson said: “Our priorities for this budget were affordability and the supply of homes for young people. The pre-announced £10bn for Help to Buy was essential, but our expectations have been exceeded with the generous abolition of stamp duty for first time buyers. This removes a huge potential barrier.”
Budget reactions: builders respond by anonymous, The Construction Index, 22 November 2017.
Despite Thomson’s willingness to act as a rent-a-quote figure when it comes to the interests of property developers, it’s telling he has yet to address a matter that has been raised repeatedly as regards his role in local government. Various issues pertaining to the granting of planning permission for Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development on the City’s section of Golden Lane still require clarification. This is The Guardian’s take on the matter:
The story follows a by-now-familiar plot. In May 2017 planning approval was given to Taylor Wimpey, despite strong opposition from local residents and businesses. During this process it emerged that the chair of the City’s planning and transportation committee, Chris Hayward, is a director of Indigo Planning, whose clients include Taylor Wimpey. Deputy chair James Thomson was formerly deputy chief financial officer and chief operations officer of Cushman and Wakefield, commercial property and real estate consultants, which marketed and sold Bernard Morgan House to Taylor Wimpey. The committee member and former lord mayor of London Sir Michael Bear was appointed chair of the planning consultancy Turley Associates – which also acts for Taylor Wimpey – a few weeks after planning approval was granted.
Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton, The Guardian, 10 October 2017.
Given that Thomson and Boleat – like 80% of the City of London council – are undemocratically ‘elected’ on business votes, these proxies apparently feel at complete liberty to stonewall the concerns of local residents. Aside from the granting of planning permission for The Denizen, there is disquiet over the cost and quality of work as regards Keepmoat’s refurbishment of the council housing tower block Great Arthur House in Cripplegate. Against the wishes of local residents it looks like the City might deploy Keepmoat on further Golden Lane Estate refurbishments. This local authority doesn’t seem in the least bit bothered about how it looks when it gives work to a company whose CEO is a local councillor for its Walbrook Ward, viz James Thomson. When will Thomson, Boleat and their colleagues deign to address such matters? Probably not until City of London councillors become democratically accountable to those who actually live in the area governed by them!
Keep Keepmoat Out Of The City – Say No To Walbrook Councillor & Keepmoat CEO James Thomson!
Header image: 17 December 2016 protest against UK property developers outside Hong Kong’s main police headquarters.
First time buyers average age has risen by seven years since the 1960s, survey finds by Gemma Francis: https://www.independent.co.uk/property/first-time-buyer-age-increase-1960s-housing-market-cost-property-ladder-a8244501.html
Budget reactions: builders respond by anonymous: https://www.theconstructionindex.co.uk/news/view/budget-reactions-builders-responds
Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/developers-culturehousing-luxury-homes-art-artists