It is 50 years since the Centre Point tower, one of London’s first skyscrapers and still one of its ugliest, opened its doors. Hailed by some as a bold symbol of British modernity – this was, after all, the era of Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’ – the 385ft tall Brutalist structure dwarfed the West End and quickly became controversial.
Five decades on, the grade II-listed tower is once again becoming a brutal symbol of the society in which we live. But this time it’s not just injuring our aesthetic sensibilities.
First conceived as an office block, it is now being redeveloped into 82 ultra-luxury flats. That’s right, just what London, a city in the grip of a housing crisis, needs. With prices of its single bed apartments standing at £1.9million – so well over the £400k to £700k asking price for a one-bed in the area – it’s safe to say that very few of these lavish dwellings will be bought by people who live and work full time in the capital. The three-bed flats are no better – they come in at an extremely affordable £3.3million.
For that buyers will have unrivalled views over the West End, plus access to a shared 30m swimming pool, treatment rooms, a private screening room, and, of course, masses of space – well, relative to most of us.
This means that rather than providing real Londoners with perhaps another 150 to 200 moderately proportioned, family-sized homes in zone one, the Centre Point tower – which appropriately has a homelessness charity named after it – will be used for just a fraction of the time by a handful of the world’s super rich. (I wonder if the developers will have to illuminate the tower specially to prevent helicopters flying into it at night, because the lights will hardly ever be on.)
Of course, the developer will argue with some justification that zone one has not been affordable nor a place where ordinary Londoners have lived for a long time. They would also champion the fact that the development includes 13 affordable homes in a block adjacent to the tower.
But they’re not in the tower itself. Nor does 13 homes out of nigh on a 100 really cut it, as far as I’m concerned. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, was elected on a pledge to ‘put Londoners first’ in respect of housing. He promised to ensure that affordable homes would comprise at least 50 per cent of all new developments in the city.
As it stands none of the flats in the tower is even faintly affordable or even in line with typical market values. Not 50 per cent; zero per cent. I think Khan should start delivering on his promise here. It needn’t be half – but it should be better than zero.