London and Partners, Boris Johnson’s official tourism and promotions agency, has axed its controversial project to market London’s homes to overseas millionaires.
Last year the Mayor defended the agency after it set out plans to promote homes to ‘high net worth’ Chinese buyers despite his own pledge to put London buyers first.
Although Mr Johnson doesn’t manage London and Partners, he does appoint its board and City Hall’s annual funding to the agency is dependent on the him personally approving its business plan.
The agency’s 2015/16 plan said it would “develop long term relationships with high net worth individuals (HNWIs) from fast growing, emerging markets by providing a range of services which encourage them to visit, invest, study and spend in London.”
It added: “The project will initially be focused on HNWIs from China with net investable assets of £10m – £50m. There are currently estimated to be 63,500 Chinese with net assets greater than £10m and this number is expected to double by 2020.”
These plans appeared to contradict the Mayor’s own statements, including a speech he gave to the Mansion House Local Government Dinner, where he said new homes should be “marketed first to Londoners”.
Mr Johnson made his remarks in the face of growing concern that foreign buyers are pushing up house prices in the capital and making it increasingly difficult for low and medium earners to stay in the city.
The discrepancy between his remarks and London and Partners’ plan to market the city and its homes to HNWIs led to accusations that the Mayor was “trying to have it both ways”.
Commenting last year, Mayor Johnson’s office defended the agency’s work, saying he had “no intention of slamming the door on the right of overseas individuals to study, travel, spend money, buy homes and invest in London” and suggested it would be “incredibly stupid and irresponsible” to turn away foreign investment.
However, according to City Hall documents, London and Partners has now dropped the HNWI strategy.
A covering note requesting the Mayor’s approval of the agency’s 2016/17 business plan says it “will cease” to target high net worth individuals and will no longer “offer escorted HNWI visit to London”.
The change of policy has been welcomed by Green party London Assembly member Darren Johnson who said he was pleased the Mayor and his agency have “seen sense”.
Assembly Member Johnson added: “Helping Chinese millionaires buy property in London and further drive up prices was an outrageous way to spend public money.”
By no longer working to attract wealthy foreign buyers, London and Partners will have more time to promote the capital’s tourism destinations and its status as a hub for high-tech businesses.
However Mr Johnson AM suggested that tech firms “would probably be happier if he spent the L&P budget trying to sort out their broadband problems.”
He’s called on the Mayor to lobby “for overseas promotion to be wholly devolved as it is in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so he can do something worthwhile” with the agency’s budget.