Saturday, 18 December 2010
London Westminster Council to seize six mansions from property tycoon
A property tycoon is set to have six London mansions seized by Westminster council in a bid to stop them falling victim to squatters. Simon Halabi has become a victim of the credit crunch and was last week reported to have lost control of seven office blocks in the capital after defaulting on more than $1 billion (£620 million) of loans.
Now Westminster council is threatening to take ownership of six of his central London homes, some valued at up to £20 million, that have lain empty for up to eight years. This is part of a drive by the council to use compulsory purchase powers to gain control of 20 luxury properties that have lain uninhabited for a decade or more to protect them from a band of rampant squatters.
Mr Halabi, a Syrian-born tycoon who formerly invested in the Shard of Glass tower planned for London Bridge, lost an estimated £120 million when the Esporta sports clubs went into administration. He owns 68 Mount Street and 14 Park Street, both valued at £20 million and empty for eight years, as well as four other central London properties worth between £6 and £12 million. Two years ago Mr Halabi was the 14th richest person in Britain, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. But he does not feature on the 2009 list.
Most of the other properties on the council’s hit list are owned by offshore companies and a few by companies and private owners in the UK. It is prepared to acquire them over the next six months unless their owners begin restoration work. Paul Palmer, Westminster’s empty homes officer, said: “We have been trying to encourage the owners of these lovely buildings to face up to their responsibilities and bring them back into use. “As we have met with a less than positive response, we are now considering using our powers of compulsory purchase in the near future. “Ideally we want the owners to take the initiative to refurbish and occupy these properties, but if they are not prepared to – then the City council will step in.”
Mr Halabi’s property empire includes the former Naval & Military Club in Piccadilly – known as the “In and Out” club – has been wound up by HM Revenue & Customs and is now managed by receivers. The council is already in talks with Mr Halabi’s receivers, who have recently installed security cameras on some of the empty properties. The first at risk of being taken into council ownership include two in Park Lane, four in Upper Grosvenor Street, three in Park Street, three in Queen Street, three in Charles Street and one each in Mount Street and Waverton Street.
The problem has become more pressing after bands of squatters began moving from one empty top-end house to another, highlighting the number of luxury homes standing empty. Earlier this week, squatters moved into a three-storey house on the same road in Belgravia as Baroness Thatcher’s home. The group had previously been evicted from an 80-room former Sudanese Embassy in Knightsbridge and a £4.5million house near Harrods.
Another squat group, known as the Oubliette, took over the former Mexican embassy in Mayfair and the neighbouring former Tanzanian High Commission this month. By standing empty, the properties have lost their owners a total of £1 billion in unpaid rent. They have also slashed £64 million from the value of neighbouring property. Mr Palmer said: “We have no intention of hanging on to these buildings.
“As soon as we acquire them we will sell them on. That makes us effectively estate agents, but we will insist that any buyers are required by contract to do them up within a limited period of time, so that this situation will not be repeated.” Westminster has calculated that each of the empty buildings could be converted into up to 12 much-needed flats
Source: Evening Standard