“I always said you should never trust a bank with property, or a property developer with money,” says Peter Rees. The former chief planner of the City of London should know about such things, having presided over the results of both. Over the last 30 years, he has ushered in a menagerie of their monuments, from the Gherkin and Cheesegrater to the Walkie-Talkie and Heron Tower, during which time he has seen a significant shift in the balance of power. “When I arrived in the job in the 1980s, the big banks were in control of London,” he says. “But now it’s the big house-builders. We’ve gone from being ruled by Barclay’s bank to being controlled by Berkeley homes.”
Left unchecked, the banks went off the rails in spectacular fashion, as they sprayed money into the great mortgage mirage. And now property developers have been allowed to follow suit. Fuelled by the dazzling wealth of investors from Russia, China and the Middle East, who they turned to when the banks stopped lending, their steroidal schemes are causing irreparable harm to our cities.
Across the country – and especially in superheated London, where stratospheric land values beget accordingly bloated developments – authorities are allowing planning policies to be continually flouted, affordable housing quotas to be waived, height limits breached, the interests of residents endlessly trampled. […]