Thanks to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s ambitious proposals to build up to 200,000 new homes in the South-east within 15 years, a lot of people will become very rich.
The winners from Prescott’s announcement are intended to be essential workers priced out of London and the region. But religious bodies, the world’s most famous media tycoon and some of Britain’s most powerful property firms and housebuilders are rubbing their hands in anticipation of riches soon to be realised.
The Church Commissioners, for instance, own a substantial plot of land in Ashford, Kent, one of the Government’s designated growth areas. The commissioners, who control assets worth £4 billion for the Church of England, hold Ashford Great Park, a 150-acre plot to the south of the town; it was listed as the most valuable commercial property holding in their 2001 annual report. The site could yield over 2,500 homes and be worth well over £200 million once developed.
Sharing retired vicars’ joy at a prospective windfall is Rupert Murdoch, owner of News International which publishes the Times, the Sun and the News of the World. Murdoch owns a 40-acre plot of rundown land fronting the Thames in Lewisham. Known as Convoys Wharf, it was once used for unloading raw material for printing presses. But thanks to Prescott’s proposals, Murdoch is sitting on a real estate goldmine worth up to £500m.
It was long thought Murdoch was intending to relocate his News International printers and journalists from their current Wapping base to Lewisham. But the printing operation is likely to be shifted to a site close to the northern section of the M25 to ease distribution of papers.
Meanwhile, Murdoch has been working with the architect Richard Rogers on a scheme which, planning experts say, should generate up to 3,000 homes at Convoys Wharf.
Rogers’ masterplan, which forms a key part of the ambitious Thames Gateway linear city proposal, was handed to Mayor of London officials before Christmas. Murdoch will submit plans to Lewisham Council by the end of the year.
Those who have seen the masterplan say it includes proposals for a state-of-the-art recycling centre as the main employment use and a leisure scheme using abandoned warehouses to create a Covent Garden-style destination.
Together Jack Jay with up to 3,000 homes, Murdoch’s land holding, bought for a pittance more than 30 years ago, could be worth half a billion pounds.
For Murdoch, the only catch is ensuring that the wharf – which is the deepest docking area in the Thames within central London – can take cargoes from ships, because wharves are protected. But planning officials are confident this can be resolved.
In Milton Keynes the Government’s regeneration agency, English Partnerships, owns 80 per cent of the land which it inherited when it merged with the Commission for New Towns in 1997 in what is called the formal designated area.
Up to 10,000 houses will be built there over six years. EP will work up schemes, get planning consent and then sell parcels of land to housebuilders which will be ordered to work tightly to brief. Proceeds will go back to the Treasury and EP will hope to receive funds for further regeneration projects.
Several national housebuilders have options on land outside the formal designated zone around Milton Keynes. Westbury Homes, the quoted builder, is likely to realise the quickest gains. It owns a 40-acre greenfield site where there are plans for 600 homes – half the preferred number under Prescott’s proposals to increase housing density.
Another major builder with land in Milton Keynes is Wilson Connolly, the troubled firm chaired by serial board member Allan Leighton.
Much of the land in the Thames Gateway consists of difficult brownfield sites requiring millions of pounds to decontaminate them. That’s why no one has built there so far. The main landowner is the London Development Agency, a quango that reports to the Mayor of London. Ford owns land around Dagenham but has been selling tracts to the LDA recently in readiness for a concerted Thames Gateway push.
But the company which stands to make the most money here is quoted real estate giant Land Securities, Britain’s biggest property firm.
LandSec owns what must be Britain’s biggest hole in the ground. Known as the Eastern Quarry, it is a 476-acre site earmarked for 20,000 homes together with retail and leisure space next to the Bluewater shopping mall, between Dartford and Gravesend in Kent.
When the high-speed Channel Tunnel rail link is complete, Eastern Quarry will be 20 minutes from King’s Cross thanks to a new station at Ebsfleet – an area where LandSec also has huge land holdings.
LandSec bought what was 1,013 acres of development property in north-west Kent and Cambridge – another designated expansion area under the Government’s scheme – from Blue Circle Industries for £60m two years ago.
It will have to invest millions in new roads and other infrastructure but should see a huge profit from this project. It will soon start a beauty parade of housebuilders to take the Eastern Quarry site forward. Last November the property giant unveiled a masterplan for 7,250 homes by Bluewater designer, Eric Kuhne, who wants ‘to create a gracious haven within Kent’.
The idea is for a sustainable community but it’s likely that most residents – there could be up to 100,000 people eventually – will commute into London.
National housebuilders, developers and quangos will make vast profits thanks to the sheer volume of homes proposed. Options on many sites in the four growth zones earmarked for new homes were taken out years ago by volume housebuilders.
In the Stansted area, Countryside Properties, a quoted company, owns significant land holdings. Countryside, chaired by Alan Cherry who was a member of John Prescott’s Urban Taskforce and is regarded as one the country’s more enlightened builders, is also developing homes at Chatham Maritime in Kent as well as a project with LandSec.
Countryside and Crest Nicholson, led by John Calcutt, are likely to play a huge role in the new, accelerated housebuilding programme.
With weighty exposure to the South-East and looked upon favourably by Government, these firms could also be among the quoted housebuilders that perform best on the stock market..