Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised by his own MPs over his apparent support for an anti-Semitic mural on a street in east London.
The mural, made by street artist Mear One, depicted a group of Jewish financiers and white businessmen playing a Monopoly-style game on a board balanced on the backs of people.
Included in the portrait, which was removed by Tower Hamlets Council after a number of complaints were made, also included an activist holding a banner which read: “The new world order is the enemy of humanity”.
Mr Corbyn left a comment on a Facebook post by Mear One, real name Kalen Ockerman, in 2012 after the artist revealed his work was set to be whitewashed.
The Labour MP wrote: “Why? You are in good company.
“Rockerfeller (sic) destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”
Mr Corbyn’s response to the post was highlighted by Labour MP Luciana Berger, who said she had asked the party leader’s office for an explanation on Friday.
The response from the Spokesperson is wholly inadequate. It fails to understand on any level the hurt and anguish felt about Antisemitism. I will be raising this further.
— Luciana Berger (@lucianaberger) March 23, 2018
In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “In 2012, Jeremy was responding to concerns about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech.
“However, the mural was offensive, used anti-Semitic imagery, which has no place in our society, and it is right that it was removed.”
But hours later, Mr Corbyn released another statement, which read: “In 2012 I made a general comment about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech. My comment referred to the destruction of the mural Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center.
“That is in no way comparable with the mural in the original post. I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.
“I wholeheartedly support its removal.
“I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form. That is a view I’ve always held.”
Fellow Labour MP Wes Streeting said Ms Berger was “not alone” in demanding answers.
Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North, also tweeted, saying: “Luciana won’t be alone. I think lots of Labour members will want an explanation for this.”
Meanwhile, Gavin Shuker, Labour and Co-operative MP for Luton South, said the statement from Mr Corbyn’s spokesman “isn’t even an apology”.
It isn’t even an apology. I know this is like screaming into the wind; it’ll make zero difference; but I want to state that this is just so wrong.
It’s impossible to confront anti-semitism in our party if this is the response from the very top. https://t.co/Z1hs7y7Y1u
— Gavin Shuker (@gavinshuker) 23 March 2018
He added: “I know this is like screaming into the wind; it’ll make zero difference; but I want to state that this is just so wrong.
“It’s impossible to confront anti-Semitism in our party if this is the response from the very top.”
Later, Ms Berger said the response from the Labour leader’s office was “wholly inadequate”.
She added: “It fails to understand on any level the hurt and anguish felt about anti-Semitism. I will be raising this further.”
Mear One denied the mural was anti-Semitic, saying it was about “class and privilege” and contained a group of bankers “made up of Jewish and white Anglos”.
The first non-stop flight between Australia and the UK has landed at London.
Qantas 9 (QF9) landed at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 just after 5am – 17 hours after departing Perth on Australia’s west coast.
The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner completed the journey of around 9,000 miles to touch down two minutes earlier than scheduled.
Previously the flight had to stop in either Singapore or the Middle East but cutting those stopovers out slashed roughly three hours from the previous flight time.
The Qantas flight is the world’s second-longest, after a Qatar Airways service between Doha and Auckland, which covers 9,028 miles.
Qantas said on Twitter that the flight was led by Captain Lisa Norman, Captain Jeff Foote, First Officer Dave Summergreene and Second Officer Troy Lane.
The flight will set off on its return leg to Perth at 1.15pm on Sunday.
The service, the first regular passenger flight linking Australia directly with Europe, was announced in December 2016.
At the time, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said: “When Qantas created the Kangaroo Route to London in 1947, it took four days and nine stops.”
After the Dreamliner flight took off, Mr Joyce described it as a “historic day for aviation”.
He added: “From today it will be the first link between Australia and Europe that has ever occurred non-stop in aviation.
“We are so excited.”
The flight will help boost the tourism market for both countries, with more than 730,000 Britons visiting Australia each year.
But tourists had often neglected the west coast of the country, because it was more difficult to travel to and far away from the more populated east coast.
Australian Tourism Minister Steven Ciobo said: “There will be more opportunity than ever before for us to continue to showcase and highlight all the very best parts of Australia, including some of the most magnificent and iconic parts of Western Australia.”
Mena Rawlings, Britain’s high commissioner to Australia, described the new service as a “game changer”, adding: “To have the opportunity to get on a plane at Heathrow and step out in Perth is just phenomenally exciting and I’m sure we are going to see lots and lots of people taking advantage of that.”
In numbers: :: Route: 14,498km (9,000 miles) long :: Time of journey: about 17 hours :: Number of passengers: 236 :: Number of Britons visiting Australia last year: 660,000
The Asia-Pacific region could run out of fish in just 30 years’ time, according to the United Nations.
More than half of Africa’s birds and mammals could die out by 2100, the organisation’s comprehensive species survey also warned.
The reports were presented at a major environmental conference in Colombia, after three years’ work by nearly 600 scientists.
In the most extensive biodiversity survey since 2005, they warn that drastic measures need to be taken to prevent a massive decline in the world’s wildlife.
Up to 90% of Asia-Pacific corals will suffer “severe degradation” by 2050, and Africa will see “significant” plant losses with lakes becoming 20-30% less productive by 2100.
Europe and Central Asia could lose a third of their fish populations, while almost half of the region’s land animals and plants are in decline.
In Europe, just seven percent of marine species had a “favourable conservation status”.
In the Americas, species populations are already 31% smaller than when the first European settlers arrived but they will have shrunk by about 40% by 2050.
Pollution, climate change and the clearing of forests to make way for farmland are among the main threats to nature, the reports say.
Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), said the findings showed humans were “undermining our own future well-being”.
He added: “Biodiversity continues to be lost across all of the regions of the globe.
“We’re losing species, we’re degrading ecosystems… if we continue ‘business as usual’, we will continue to lose biodiversity at increasing rates.
“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives.
“Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Nature provides humans with food, clean water, energy and climate regulation – just about everything we need to survive.
But with population growth expected to continue until at least 2050, demand on natural resources will also continue to grow.
The reports offer solutions such as restoring degraded zones, creating more protected areas and rethinking subsidies that promote unsustainable agriculture.
Mr Watson said: “Can we stop all of it? No. Can we significantly slow it down? Yes.”
But among the positive notes are the rising forest cover in China and other Asian countries, more parks and protected areas and species such as the Iberian lynx, Amur tiger and far eastern leopard making a comeback from the brink of extinction.
“My thing is, if you yell at the refs, you should get a technical,” he said.
But , he defended his intention — leading his team to victory — and actions — shouting, pacing, pushing the limits of the coach’s box.
“If we’re coaching our guys,” he said, “that’s what we’re paid to do.”
The N.C.A.A. doesn’t necessarily disagree. This is the first season of an expanded coach’s box, which is the area the head coach may patrol during play. Vigorous sideline generals received an extra 10 feet this season; they may now roam from the baseline all the way to a mark 38 feet away. That’s a midrange jump shot from midcourt, which is 47 feet from the baseline.
“I have had officials tell me that it was expanded for me,” Weber said.
College basketball coaches are easy subjects for ridicule. N.B.A. fans scoff at their hyperactivity and point to professional coaches’ comparatively calm mien, even though N.B.A. coaches may stray as much as 43 feet from the baseline. Casual observers wonder why these blustering, nattily dressed bombasts can’t stay cool.
The college coaches say they deserve sympathy. Their charges are younger than most players in the N.B.A. Their teams can feel especially far away while on defense, seeking crucial late-game stops out of vocal range for even the loudest coach. Most coaches are former players with decades of experience who now watch mostly helplessly as post-adolescents try to implement months of training in a few essential seconds. Their antics also make for great TV.
Yet they have to stay inside an invisible box during games or risk a penalty that could tangibly hurt their team. The correct call for a coach’s box violation after a warning is a Class B technical foul, giving the other team one free throw and the ball, inbounded where it was when the foul was called.
“I have a young team, and sometimes they don’t talk,” Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said last week between first- and second-round games. “You can hear it in my voice. I’ve got to talk for them. I got warned yesterday, and, probably, going to get warned tomorrow.”
Despite plenty of yelling and straying, Johnson and Alabama lost to Duke Sunday night.
In a world where referees “T-up” coaches for far more subjectively determined violations, there is an argument that the coach’s box is extraneous, even condescending. Anecdotally, there appear to be few T’s actually called (the N.C.A.A. said it did not keep the statistic). Kansas Coach Bill Self complained that he had been whistled once this year “for sticking my toe two inches outside the box.”
Continue reading the main story
“We represent universities,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said in a phone interview. “We’re grown men. We’re employed. We get treated like we’re immature. We’ve got to be in this small little confined area. We’re not going to go to the other bench and instigate something.”
This understanding was partly why the box was expanded, according to Art Hyland, secretary-rules editor of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball rules committee. It is also why referees are instructed to first give the bench a warning.
“People felt empathy that the coaches really needed a little more room in order to do their job correctly,” Hyland said.
An extra 10 feet turns out to be a lot, Self said Thursday in Omaha before the Jayhawks’ round of 16 game. He thought it was a “pretty insignificant change” when it was announced last June, but now that it has been in place for a season, he said, “It’s been a great rule.”
“You feel like you can actually have a little bit more communication on the other end of the floor,” he said.
On Wednesday, before Thursday night’s violation, Calipari blamed the tight strictures of the old box for one of the most infamous coach’s box technical fouls in the college game.
In 1992, Calipari’s Massachusetts team was playing Kentucky in the round of 16 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The Minutemen had made up most of a double-digit deficit late in the second half when a referee called a technical foul on Calipari for a coach’s box violation. The referee “was 50 feet away from the UMass bench when he called it,” The Baltimore Sun reported. The call swung the momentum back the Wildcats’ way, and they won. (They lost the next game to Duke on Christian Laettner’s famous buzzer-beater.)
“At the Spectrum where they had all those lines,” Calipari said. “I’m standing there and the guy calls a T from 90 feet away. ‘You’re out of the box.’ And I really wasn’t out of the box, but it looked like it.”
Continue reading the main story
Calipari had no such defense or excuse Thursday night.
In practice, there is frequently a live-and-let-live dynamic between referees and hyperactive coaches. Warnings are issued; actual fouls, less so.
Ed Hightower, a retired referee, said officials often find that assistant coaches are better interlocutors for conveying the warnings. Speraw, Weber’s assistant, said that the referees had spoken to the staff at halftime of the U.M.B.C. game.
When warning coaches that they were in danger of violating this rule, Hightower said he would often say, “You don’t want to make me do something I don’t want to do.”
“Ninety percent of the time, I would say, the coaches are just so caught up in the moment, coaching their kids,” Hightower said. “It’s an emotional sport.”
One of the last surviving links to the golden age of Hollywood is behind a legal challenge which could change how the entertainment industry tells real-life stories.
Olivia de Havilland, who starred in Gone With The Wind and won two Oscars during a stellar career, is suing the makers of the docudrama Feud over her portrayal as a gossipy narrator played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.
The series tells the story of the notorious rivalry between screen stars Bette David and Joan Crawford and stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange.
But de Havilland, who is now 101 and lives in Paris, filed a lawsuit against FX and the show’s producer claiming its portrayal of her, without her permission, violates her right to publicity as celebrity and casts her in a “false light”.
During a hearing at the California Court of Appeals this week, discussion centred on a scene in which she is shown calling her sister Joan Fontaine a “bitch”, something her lawyers say she would never have done.
The show’s producers say her portrayal is a positive one and that the case threatens the rights, under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, to freedom of speech for filmmakers. They are backed by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Cases like this are usually speedily dismissed by the courts but the judge has allowed de Havilland to proceed, raising alarm in an industry that lives to tell stories on big screen and small.
Law professor Jennifer Rothman, who has written a book on the principle of the right to publicity, was among the lawyers to give evidence at the hearing.
She says a victory for de Havilland would have huge implications for the industry.
“It would be a dramatic change. I have tremendous respect for Olivia de Havilland but I think that the allegation here is far more problematic in terms of shutting down speech about public figures and important creative works that I think ultimately she would have liked to appear in when she was actively acting.”
In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, de Havilland wrote: “I have spent a good portion of my life defending the film industry. However, studios, which choose to chronicle the lives of real people, have a legal and moral responsibility to do so with integrity. They have a duty not to steal the value of an actor’s identity for profit.
“I am proud to be the standard bearer for other celebrities, who may not be in a position to speak out for themselves under similar circumstances.”
The actress, who was born to British parents, last sued Hollywood in 1944, securing a win which freed actors from restrictions of lengthy studio contracts.
But screenwriters say a victory in this case would be damaging to the industry.
Liska Ostojic said: “Any filmmaker’s job is trying to distil the essence of a person or a story or a relationship down to an essential truth. In order to do that you have to change how things happened in real life because stories often take much longer in real life then you can fit into a two-hour movie.”
The party frets so much that Mr. Shen — who possesses a blue-ribbon political pedigree — cannot get access even to documents deemed accessible under a law passed in 1996 that said archives would be open to the public after 30 years. The law has never been followed.
Hence, China’s version of Nixon’s visit in 1972 and its accounts of the precursor trips by Henry Kissinger remain largely unknown. What went on between Mao and the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung during the Korean War is only sketchily understood from China’s point of view.
With Xia Yafeng of Long Island University, Mr. Shen is the author of the seminal work on China’s relations with North Korea, “A Misunderstood Friendship: Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung and Sino-North Korean relations 1949-1976,” which will be published in English later this year. The book relies heavily on the archives in Moscow and Central Europe that tumbled open after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But he made some lucky finds in libraries in northeastern China, too, while also extracting papers from reluctant librarians at China’s major archives. And through his connections with top party officials, he secured access to a memorandum of conversations between Mao and the North Korean leader, a trove that had never before been made public.
In the book, Mr. Shen demolishes the myth that China and North Korea were tightly allied, “as close as lips to teeth,” as China’s propagandists insisted. He shows that even before the start of the Korean War in 1950, relations between the two newly installed Communist parties were tense. Mr. Kim, the grandfather of the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, invaded South Korea without notifying Mao. The Chinese were informed three days after the fact.
Despite his current pursuits, Mr. Shen is hardly the scholarly sort who has spent his life buried in the stacks. He started out as a crack Navy pilot, but that ended when he was falsely accused of murder by a jailhouse snitch. Mr. Shen was freed after the informer recanted, but was jailed again in the early 1980s on an accusation of spying for the United States.
Mr. Shen says the spying charge stemmed from his giving some articles and documents on Chinese agrarian reform to an American student who, unbeknown to him, was suspected by the authorities of having links to the C.I.A.
Continue reading the main story
During his two years in prison, he invented a way to write by fashioning an empty toothpaste tube into a pen. He asked for books on Mao, Marx and Lenin (“The prison authorities didn’t dare deny that”), and wrote notes for his first work — on Soviet agriculture — in the margins of the Soviet Union’s “New Economic Policy,” using an upturned washbowl balanced on his knees as a desk.
When he got out of jail the second time, he had weathered enough to know that his personal diary — a foot-high stack of notebooks going back to high school — was a time bomb, one that the authorities could use for blackmail.
So in 1985, before heading to southern China to begin a career in business, he burned the diaries, tossing them page by page into a coal furnace, an odd act for someone who would later campaign for the preservation of records. “Very bittersweet,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave anything in writing which might cause me further trouble.”
It was the period of China’s economic reforms, and Mr. Shen became a successful gold trader, eventually earning enough to quit the business and devote himself full-time to his historical research.
Mr. Shen grew up in Beijing, the son of a successful Communist Party bureaucrat who rose to become the second in command of China’s prison system. Despite Mr. Shen’s run-ins with the communist system, he holds an almost perfect Communist Party pedigree: his father had joined Mao at his army base in Yan’an during the civil war and his father-in-law was a good friend of the father of the current president, Mr. Xi.
He appreciates that delving into the Communist Party’s past requires functioning like a guerrilla historian, not a starchy academic, so he has taken his drive for transparency beyond China’s borders.
His government-funded Research Institute for Asian Neighborhood Studies in Shanghai allows Mr. Shen and his students to travel to one-party states in Asia and Eastern Europe to collect documents that are then copied and cataloged at the institute.
North Korea would seem a natural hunting ground. On a visit to Beijing, a senior North Korean official invited Mr. Shen to Pyongyang to look at the archives, airfare and lodging paid, but he declined. “I was worried if I went, I wouldn’t be allowed out.”
During his travels around China, he is not shy about offering his opinions on the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. He caused a stir last year when he told a closed-door seminar that China would be better off allying with South Korea than the North. (The lecture later circulated on the internet.)
Continue reading the main story
“You can see how much attention and admiration he commands when he speaks at forums in China,” said Charles Kraus, a historian who specializes in China at the Wilson Center in Washington, where Mr. Shen is a senior fellow. “In Changchun in 2015 I remember there were even Shen Zhihua fanboys waiting in the hotel lobby hoping to catch a glimpse of him and get him to autograph books.”
Mr. Shen will never give up the chase for China’s historical secrets. But he wonders if the really important documents even exist at this point.
When they left office, many senior officials ransacked the files. Zhou Enlai’s wife is rumored to have taken archives and shredded them. Mao’s wife is believed to have destroyed documents, too.
The Chinese Communist Party kept far fewer records than the party in the Soviet Union, where the unleashing of the archives led to a whole new industry of Cold War history.
“Russia has a tradition of keeping records,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party grew out of an underground operation, was very secretive and didn’t record many things. Of the 1950s Politburo meetings there are few records. They never wrote things down.”
He is thankful his political connections have helped him to at least get in the door of important Chinese archives. But being inside is often not enough.
A friend in the bureaucracy once explained the problem, he said: “ ‘You know about the 1996 law,’ ” the friend told him, “ ‘But you don’t know about the 10 no’s. There’s no looking up religion, diplomacy, personal affairs of state leaders.’ I said, ‘What can I look up?’ The person said, ‘Basically nothing.’ ”
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has been in power for 35 years. But while his longevity in office is a talking point at home, the time he spends out of the country has stirred international comment – as Paul Melly, an associate fellow of Chatham House, explains.
Criticised by some for a supposedly “hands-off” style of rule, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya recently held a cabinet meeting for the first time in more than two years.
Presidential elections are scheduled for October and Cameroonians are waiting to hear if the 85-year-old will seek a further term. But no such announcement was made at the meeting.
Mr Biya has been in power since 1982, making him one of Africa’s longest serving leaders. Under his rule, Cameroon has survived an economic crisis and moved from being a one-party state to multi-party politics.
But it has also been marked by endemic corruption and reversal of democratic gains, leading to the abolition of term limits in 2008, which allowed the octogenarian to run for re-election in 2011.
Today’s Africa is changing. The era of decades-old presidencies is slipping away. Satellite TV and the internet tell a growing urban audience about democratic changes of power in other sub-Saharan countries.
Some 60% of Cameroonians are under 25 and so were not even born when President Biya first came to power. There is massive demand for jobs and viable livelihoods.
The opposition Social Democratic Front has now recognised these generational realities. Earlier this year, the party’s leader, John Fru Ndi, 76, stepped aside to make way for a new presidential candidate, 49-year-old businessman and former pilot Joshua Osih.
This is the challenge that confronts Mr Biya as he decides whether to stand for a further term that could take him into a fourth decade in power in a country hungry for change.
His repeated absences from the country have riled critics.
His foreign travels have been the subject of an online spat between the state-owned Cameroon Tribune newspaper and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which calculated the amount of time the president spent abroad using reports from the daily newspaper.
The OCCRP estimates that the president spent nearly 60 days out of the country last year on private visits.
It also alleges that he spent a third of the year abroad in 2006 and 2009. The Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva is said to be his favourite destination.
The state-owned Cameroon Tribune called their investigation “a clear electoral propaganda”.
Back home, President Biya adopts a low-key style, staying out of the limelight and sometimes retreating to his home village.
He entrusts the day-to-day running of the government to the Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, who holds monthly gatherings of a “cabinet council”.
The prime minister is accorded wide latitude to manage the work of his ministerial team, while the head of state meets senior figures in private at the presidential palace in the capital, Yaoundé.
Cameroon jails Biya critic for 25 years
Deaths in Cameroon independence protests
Why has Cameroon blocked the internet?
Cameroon minister mocked for low bow to president
More about Cameroon
President Biya’s hands-off approach has led critics to talk of an “absent president”.
However, this relationship at least partly reflects Cameroon’s unusual dual heritage of both British and French colonial rule. President Biya, like his predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo, is from the Francophone regions, while the premier is always an Anglophone.
The president has to be seen to leave the head of government to get on with the job, says one non-partisan Cameroonian analyst.
So when President Biya does summon ministers to a rare formal cabinet gathering, it is usually for a special reason.
The most recent one was the official first meeting of a new ministerial team after a reshuffle earlier in the month. It is similar to the last cabinet meeting, in 2015, which had come soon after the previous government revamp.
This time there was speculation that Mr Biya would announce whether or not he would stand in this year’s election, to seek yet another term in office – but in fact he gave no hint of his thinking on that.
Yet the surprise cabinet meeting did matter in another way.
For more than a year, Cameroon’s Anglophone regions in the North-West and South-West have been mired in crisis.
This started as a protest by lawyers and teachers demanding better provision for the use of English.
But tensions rose, leading to confrontation between the security forces, a 93-day blackout of internet services across Anglophone Cameroon, and separatist militants fighting for an independent “Ambazonia”, with a rising death toll on both sides.
The government took steps to address the language issues, but the situation still looks dangerous. Both the UK and France have discreetly pressed for dialogue.
President Biya responded with a cabinet reshuffle on 2 March, signalling a carrot and stick approach: firmness on security and law and order was balanced with the creation of a ministry for decentralisation, holding out the promise of greater local control over development and public services.
He used this rare cabinet meeting to show his full backing for his ministers as they pursue this twin-track strategy – a firm stance on security in the troubled Anglophone region, but, at the same time, decentralisation, to give local people more control over their own affairs.
So, the so-called absent president had to show a firm hand while also preparing to loosen his grip.
Most people in the UK rent from small private landlords, often amateurs, with mixed results. Big investors are now building thousands of properties especially for rent, but will they be a better option?
Moving into his new sparkling white flat in a high-rise block in east London, Michael McDonald is looking forward to one thing more than anything else – high speed broadband that actually works.
In his last home the internet was broken and the landlord didn’t fix it for a whole year. So he can soon finally watch a high-definition film in his own living room.
His new flat also comes with a gym, a roof terrace, a 24-hour concierge and special lockers for receiving parcels. There’s a table-tennis table, a reading snug and a rentable bedroom and dining room – in case guests come or he wants to hold a dinner party.
It costs around £1,600 a month – which he says is not too expensive for a flat 20 minutes from his office in London’s Canary Wharf. “It’s quite good for the space we have got. And when you tally up the benefits, it’s just as affordable,” he says.
The developer, Grainger, has built all these extras to lure new tenants and encourage them to stay. But the really unusual thing about the block is that it has been built specifically for renting.
So that means Mr McDonald can get a three-year tenancy, not the usual six months. And because the landlord is a large public company, they’re unlikely to turf him out because they want to sell up, or move back in themselves.
And if the internet breaks, they promise to fix it – and anything else – a bit more quickly.
Over the past few years, the number of these “build to rent” (BTR) developments has been growing rapidly in Britain, and this month the government gave its official blessing to the rise of the sector in its new national planning policy.
Supporters of BTR hope it will increase the supply of housing, improve the quality and choice available to renters, and even transform the growth of cities.
The British Property Federation calculates that over 105,000 such homes are either complete or planned across the UK – of which just over half are in London. Next to Wembley Stadium, Quintain is developing what will be the largest BTR project in the UK, with over 5,000 homes.
The rest are spread around the country, with big clusters in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. They’re not all flats – Grainger is also developing family homes on the site of a former military barracks in Aldershot.
Owning rental homes is a good way for pension funds to get steady, reliable income to pay their pensioners, so a growing number are keen to invest. Legal and General, for example, the giant pensions and insurance company, has earmarked over £1bn to invest in BTR.
In the US, as well as many European countries this way of renting is much more widespread. In the Netherlands and Switzerland, institutions have nearly half their property investments in residential, whereas it’s just 1% in the UK, according to a 2010 survey by data provider IPD.
“We have in the UK a housing shortage,” says Grainger’s chief executive Helen Gordon. “We know that more people will be renting for longer periods of their lives, and unlike shops and offices we will have a constant demand for occupation.
“Plus rents usually rise with inflation and wages, so for an investor, it’s quite a good hedge against inflation.”
But if it makes such good sense, why haven’t big institutions invested in rental property before?
As any buy-to-let landlord will tell you, looking after tenants is not an easy thing to do. “There is a lot of detailed work in making somebody’s home work for them and in keeping your tenant happy,” says Ms Grainger. “Offices or shopping centres have been a much easier prospect.”
Also, until recently property prices were rising so fast that building homes for sale just made more financial sense for developers. Many big developments were sold “off plan” before they were even finished.
But if you look back far enough, it turns out that institutions used to invest a lot in rental property. Not far from the Wembley Park development in North London is a BTR development from an earlier era.
Developed in the 1960s by the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society, the Queensmead estate in Maida Vale comprised six blocks of flats. “Nothing has been spared in making these homes epitomise the high standards of contemporary comfort,” the promotional literature of the time gushed.
The society had investments around the country. It rebuilt the centre of Solihull in the West Midlands, with shops, offices and flats. But by the 1970s, all the homes had been sold off. Only the offices and shops remained.
“Very reluctantly, we came to the conclusion that there was little future for the private landlord in this country,” Norwich Union’s chief estates manager, John Darby, told the society’s newspaper in 1976. “The institutions have been practically forced out of residential ownership by the policies of successive governments since the war. I think this is a great shame.”
Part of the problem was limits to the pace at which they could put up rents. Landlords and investors argue that if they can’t put rents up as fast as their costs increase, the investments become unviable.
The new generation of build to rent investors fear that history may repeat itself. The 2017 Labour manifesto promised to limit rent rises to inflation – which would limit the investment returns, and the viability of new projects.
Michael Allen, director of build to rent at Quintain, the Wembley Park developers says: “There is clear evidence that where rent control has been imposed, this has led to a decline in institutional investment in the private rented sector.
“Meanwhile, in places like Boston and New York where rent controls are on the decline there has been a strong resurgence in institutional investment.”
In any case, BTR doesn’t offer a solution to all the UK’s housing market’s woes. 100,000 properties is a small contribution to the extra 250,000-300,000 homes needed every year just in England, according to some estimates.
And for those who dream of owning their own home, renting from any kind of landlord will always feel like second best.
But advocates hope that a better choice of rental homes – with more secure tenancies – will help more people see renting as a viable long-term alternative.
Michael McDonald is happy to be a renter. “I can see myself renting for the next 10-20 years, no problem. It reduces risk.
“At the moment the housing market is all over the place, house prices are higher than ever and nobody wants that risk of a mortgage that you can’t afford to pay, especially if the price of the property crashes.”