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Councillors clash over empty SE1 homes owned by foreign investors

Southwark's Labour leader has welcomed the sale of prime riverside properties in SE1 to foreign investors.

Cllr Adele Morris (Lib Dem, Cathedrals ward) questioned council leader Peter John at this week's council assembly about the proportion of homes in new developments being sold to foreign investors and what the council would do to ensure that such homes would not be left empty.

In the last week alone sales exhibitions have been held in Istanbul for homes in the One Tower Bridge development at Potters Fields and in Hong Kong for flats in Union Street.

"Whilst other leaders in London, the GLA, academics and various other people are talking about the issue that we have potentially 60 per cent of our central London homes bought up by foreign investors and potentially not then rented out, you don't seen to care at all," said Cllr Morris.

"In fact, you quite blatantly said you'll take the money and spend it on council housing elsewhere in the borough.

"Are you not ashamed of yourself to be treating communities in the north with such disrespect that you really don't care...?"

She added: "There are things that the planning officers can do and our planning policies can implement but you don't seen interested."

Labour's Cllr Peter John replied: "I'm not ashamed of wanting to see investment in this borough which brings jobs and growth and genuine affordable housing to residents in our borough.

"If [Cllr Morris] had her way there I know that there would be no new homes in the north of the borough because she systematically opposes virtually every new development ... on the basis that she is standing up for her residents.

"No; her residents want to see investment in the borough which brings jobs and growth. That is what we're about.

"Yes, the investment which comes from new housing in the north of the borough – which is bought by foreign investors in certain circumstances – will pay for 1,000 new council homes not just in the north of the borough but right across the borough and that has to be good news.

"I do take her point seriously about empty properties and I think we do have to look as a council at what we can do through council tax etc to penalise those virtual residents so they are not leaving their properties empty.

"If she is inviting me to say that we cannot have foreign investment in property in Southwark I am going to say no; I think that is wrong. It means that we will not get development and investment in our borough. We will not get the jobs and the growth that we need.

"This is an administration which is focusing on jobs and growth and that is what we will deliver."

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