Why London rents are finally going down
Whisper it, but renting in the capital might get better in 2024
Morning, and a belated Happy New Year — the Spy team are now back from our holidays, bringing you everything we’ve missed while away and more. We’re leading on that rare thing in London — some actual hope for renters. Plus: a renewed focus on knife crime, a radical plan for the Tube, and an absolute beast of a kebab shop.
Massive thanks for all the kind words about our recent big read on the death of the London houseboat dream. It’s been our single most shared and subscribed post so far. We’re really excited about the features we’ve got coming up in 2024 — look out for the worst dump in London, a Tube fire mystery, and the walls closing in on the capital’s golf courses. In your inbox, soon!
And hot off the press — some more mock-ups from our lovely Spy designers. They’re busy at work ahead of our paid launch in a few months, and they’re giving squishy.
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What we’ve spied
📈 A big prediction to start your year: an estate agent reckons London rents are unlikely to rise in 2024. According to agency Winkworth, an influx of “accidental landlords” in the capital over the past year has boosted the city’s supply of lettings, which may keep a lid on future rent hikes. These are landlords who’ve resorted to renting out their property after struggling to sell amid the recent downturn in the housing market, brought on by spiking mortgage rates and the cost-of-living crisis. A lack of widespread rent hikes would make 2024 very different from 2023, perhaps the worst year for London tenants in recent memory, with rents surging on average by 15% and competition for rooms going wild. It’s early days but new data put out by SpareRoom last week suggests things are starting to cool off. The flatmate finding site says London room rents had fallen two months in a row by the end of 2023, the first continuous drop in the city’s rents since February 2021. The figures are still painfully high though — an average room clocking in at £1,019 in December, down from a peak of £1,030 in October. Also, having the cooldown hinge on accidental landlords begs an obvious question — what happens when they can finally sell? Related: what one man learned while living in a skip in London this past year.
📣 A high-profile stabbing and a campaign fronted by actor Idris Elba have put knife crime top of London’s agenda for the new year. 16-year-old Harry Pitman was stabbed to death at a fireworks display on Primrose Hill in north London on New Year’s Eve, in front of many onlookers and reportedly with a “hunting-style” knife. Another 16-year-old boy appeared in court last week accused of the murder and will be entering into a plea at a hearing set for March. Pitman’s murder marked a grim end to 2023, a year that saw 21 teenage homicides — 18 of which were stabbings — recorded across London, up from a total of 14 homicides in 2022. Last Monday London-born Elba launched a campaign, Don’t Stop Your Future, with an art installation at Parliament Square in Westminster featuring bundles of clothing to represent lives lost to knife crime. Elba’s campaign is calling for an immediate UK-wide ban on machetes and so-called ‘zombie’ knives — one of which is believed to have been used to murder 15-year-old Elianne Andam on her way to school in Croydon last September. Elba also said: “We need to give young people more of a reason not to carry a weapon in the first place. That means investing in the services that address the root causes of violent crime”. It was with that backdrop that an awkward report surfaced in the Telegraph on Thursday — sources say the Met Police is planning to cut the number of murder detectives in London to address a shortfall in recruitment in other areas. After some backlash, the Met later insisted “no decision” on the cut has been made.
🚇 That huge Tube strike was averted last week — or perhaps just delayed. Underground drivers are reportedly fuming about mayor Sadiq Khan’s last-minute offer to stop the mass walkouts by station and operational staff planned by the RMT union. Drivers are represented by a different union, Aslef, which was left out of Khan’s offer of an extra £30m to fund pay rises. Having been told no more money was available earlier in the year, Aslef is now demanding a 12% pay rise for drivers, and the union released a statement saying Khan “had found the magic money tree and our members expect to share the fruit”. A distraction from the strike drama last week though — it’s been revealed TfL is considering introducing surge pricing on the Tube. In what could be a radical change to the Tube’s pricing system, fares could increase “dynamically” based on usage, encouraging travel on certain days, in part to reflect changing habits after the pandemic. Expect more on fares this week, as Khan is announcing how much they’ll rise from March, following last year’s 4.9% increase. Elsewhere in London transport: TfL might install fake steering wheels at the front of DLR trains, while a fleet of electric buses has been withdrawn from Wimbledon after one dramatically caught fire on Thursday.
⛈️ Among those still reeling from all that mad weather hitting London is the captain of Bar&Co, a party boat that sunk beneath the Thames during Storm Henck. Owner Jorge Gallardo has spoken of his devastation over the loss of the 110-year-old boat, which was moored at Temple Pier and hosted party nights, weddings and birthdays until it was partially submerged by heavy rainfall. "It wasn't only my business, it's my life,” Gallardo tells the BBC. A crowdfunder to support Gallardo and the Bar&Co team has now reached £6,000 as of writing. Also left traumatised by Storm Henck was one family who became trapped on the London Eye when high winds ripped off the roof of their pod. Out east, Hackney Wick residents faced flooding when a canal burst its banks, and down south scaffolding chaotically collapsed onto a high street, prompting an investigation by Sutton council. This week’s London forecast is much gentler, though nippy — there’s even snow expected today, apparently.
😤 “I am f***ing appalled,” is the reaction of Miriam Margolyes to the planned closure of a post office in south London, in another recent celeb-based campaign. The actress and Clapham resident of nearly 50 years has backed local efforts to stop the neighbourhood’s post office closing so the landlord can redevelop the building. “It will cause hardship and difficulty and real anxiety to an awful lot of people,” says Margolyes. More local outrage up in north London — Enfield residents are hitting out at Tottenham Hotspur’s bid to take over part of a park for its women’s team. And Spurs aren’t the only London club raising backs: Hammersmith and Fulham council has called on Chelsea FC to pause plans to redevelop a housing complex near Stamford Bridge, over concerns about possible evictions for the 40 armed forces veterans currently living in the purpose-built accommodation.
❌ After weeks of uncertainty, it’s official — the MSG Sphere is definitely not coming to Stratford. Madison Square Garden Entertainment has withdrawn its planning application for the huge, orb-like concert venue covered in LED screens, after it was blocked by Sadiq Khan in November. Housing secretary Michael Gove had raised the possibility of overturning Khan’s decision, but MSG didn’t bite. The company is now expected to pursue a sale of the land instead — campaigners want it used for affordable housing. See Spy 291123 for more on the campaign to kill the Sphere. And if you still want a fix of cutting-edge concert tech, a hologram Elvis Presley show is coming to London later this year.
🖼️ The British Museum dropped a real stinker at the end of last year with the announcement of a new BP sponsorship, and now it’s revealed how it’ll splash the oil giant’s cash. The museum in Bloomsbury has launched a competition for architects to redesign a third of its galleries using the money, with the focus on tweaking its ‘Western Range’, home to the museum’s collections of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts. No word if that’ll appease anyone reaching for orange paint — though here’s an inside look at how British Museum trustees apparently agonised over approving the new BP deal. In other London museum news: a new balloon museum has opened at Old Billingsgate in the City, and more details on the Quentin Blake museum for illustration that’s opening in Clerkenwell.
🍲 London’s food scene may finally return to full stride in 2024, after new stats showed restaurant openings last year nearly matched pre-pandemic levels. 253 new eateries opened in 2023, up from 243 in 2022 and 216 in 2021 — though still below the 281 seen in 2019. That said, one notable closure just this weekend — Le Gavroche, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair that made the careers of Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White, opened for the final time on Saturday. Anyway, here’s three recent ‘best of 2023’ lists for you to hoover up some restaurant recommendations: the FT (£), Evening Standard and Vittles (£).
🔍 And finally, we leave you with:
Fears that American tipping culture has come to London
The ‘dark side’ of London’s NYE fireworks display
North London prankster Mizzy’s first interview since being released from prison
Plans to get rid of those ‘ghost marks’ from the Lizzy Line
What may be the most valued Tesco in central London
The ‘UK’s biggest’ kebab shop opening on Oxford Street
A new podcast series on the Met’s sting against London kingpins using hacked phone data