I first heard about the Northern line’s extension to Battersea from a now retired senior manager on the line.
He told me that, for the first time since he had been an apprentice 30 years before, he had had to fill in a timesheet. This was to account for every minute he spent in meetings about the project or any work he did on it, so that London Underground could bill the developers for his time.
The entire cost of the extension was to be privately funded. It wouldn’t cost LU a penny.
It seemed a very good idea to me. After all the developers and building contractors would make even vaster fortunes from the former power station turned prime riverside real estate with its own Zone 1 tube station thrown in. So why shouldn’t they pay for it?
But then along came the market crashes of 2008 and ownership of the site eventually transferred from Dublin based Celtic Tiger property tycoons, via NAMA (the Irish State bad bank), to Malaysian based companies SP Setia and Sime Darby. And they didn’t seem to think that paying for a tube extension themselves was viable after all.
Always happy to help Far Eastern investors, George Osborne came up with a solution – a loan of one billion pounds from the Public Works Loan Board was made available to the GLA, to be repaid sometime in the dim and distant future from “incremental business rates and developers contributions”.
But just to make sure this won’t be too onerous on the developers they will be exempt from the Crossrail levy that they would have otherwise had to pay.
However it is dressed up, this once private project is now massively publicly subsidised, its costs included in the TfL business plan while LU managers wonder where they can find the money for the new trains that will be needed to service it.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with public investment in infrastructure being used to help with economic development. That’s exactly what is supposed to happen. But if what you are building is an exclusive district of luxury apartments for the global super rich, then Londoners are surely entitled to ask just what are we getting for our money?
There is the promise of jobs I suppose.
Apple moving staff from Oxford Circus doesn’t create any new jobs of course, but after all someone will have to clean the toilets and take out the bins from the “stunning apartments” and “incredible waterfront homes”.
But the servant class will have to commute in because it turns out that the promise of 15% percent affordable homes in the planning application simply isn’t viable anymore. Now there will be just 386 instead of the 636 in the plans.
Property values are falling it seems, so the owners of SP Setia and Sime Darby just can’t make enough profit if they let too many people who can’t afford a minimum £800,000 for a studio flat clog up the area.
At school, my economics teacher told me that profit was the return made by enterprise. Investors took a risk and made a loss if it all went wrong.
I guess that was economics for the little guys.
Because if you are too big to fail the Government steps in with soft loans and willing councillors let you change the rules.
And nothing can be done about it.
The Mayor says he is powerless to intervene. The rest of us just have to grin and bear it.
There is a long running grumble of discontent about the inequality and unfairness of our city.
Coppers and firefighters who haven’t seen a decent pay rise in a decade are still searching through the charnel house of Grenfell tower while Camden tenants are decanted on to blow up mattresses.
And Wandsworth councillors raise their right arms to wave through one more rotten deal to make sure developers can make enough profit.
Is it any wonder that the grumble of discontent is turning into a dangerous rage?