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Revealed: The aristocrats behind Totterdown’s unaffordable tower blocks

Bristol’s red hot housing crisis is attracting a globetrotting elite. One owns this castle.

Housing Crisis Transparency

Bristol’s red hot housing crisis is attracting a globetrotting elite. One of them owns this castle.

Photo: Chipchase Castle

A parade of aristocrats and global money men are behind a major new development set to spring up in south Bristol.

As Bristolians have become begrudgingly accustomed to, the plan for 160 new units at Totterdown Bridge falls well below official ‘affordable’ housing targets. Current plans allocate just 20% of homes at less than the market rate, despite a council target of 30%.

The plans have met strong opposition from locals in the Totterdown Residents Environmental & Social Action group, who object to the design and height of the 15-storey tower and other smaller blocks included in the plans, as well as the low amount of affordable housing.

While some in Totterdown feel shut out by an array of national and global elites, old money and new are seeking to benefit from Bristol’s red hot housing crisis.

Putting the gentry back in gentrification

On the board of companies involved in submitting the Totterdown application and controlled by the developer, Hadley Property, sits three of Britain’s landed gentry, giving an literal twist to the gentrification debate.

Among them is the Earl of Haddo, George Ian Alastair Gordon who is set to follow on from his father, the 7th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, 13th Earl of Aberdeen, 7th Earl of Haddo, 13th Viscount of Formartine, 10th Viscount Gordon.

Image result for "jonathan elkington" chipchase

Jonathan Elkington. Credit: Chipchase Castle

The Earl is joined by Jonathan Richard Elkington, who also sits on the board of private wealth managers LJ Partnership, a major shareholder in Hadley Property, which markets itself as providing bespoke services to a select group of families and companies. Mr Elkington is the owner of Chipchase Castle, a massive 17th century mansion in Northumberland (pictured above), and manages the sporting activities at the estate, in between managing real estate for LJ in Bristol and all over the country. 

The third and final symbol of the continuing control of the landed elite over wealth and property in Bristol and the UK is the presence of Alexander Charles Benedict De Meyer, Chief Executive Officer at LJ Partnership. Mr De Meyer is a Count, and the son of Count Hubert Charles de Meyer and Lady Susan Ankaret Howard.

While these investors might have roots in England of old, they bring a modern and savvy approach to striking while the property market is red hot. In the Viability Appraisal to assess the value of the Totterdown scheme prepared for Hadley by property firm Savills, it is noted that “Bristol is currently experiencing exceptional demand for development opportunities” and that “traditionally less popular areas such as Bedminster have grown in popularity” with 1,200 houses set for development in the Bedminster Green area. Despite this Savills concluded that to include affordable housing would bring their profits unacceptably below at target of 20-25%.

Usually these controversial calculations are kept secret. However, following a Cable campaign, these confidential documents are now publicly available and we know that Hadley could in fact expect to take up to £10 million in profit.

Given rising discontent about the housing crisis and the more robust stance taken by council leadership, Hadley have admitted in a planning document that “such a proposal might not be positively received”. In an effort to smooth the process they have made an offer to the council of 20% affordable housing.

However, what might arouse the ire of public is that that the documents reveal the developers are seeking to pursue incentives and grants from the council as a way to deliver these units.

Despite attempts by the developer to cry poor, the potential to cash in on this and other Hadley developments has attracted one of Hong Kong’s biggest companies. The family-owned Peterson Group is a major shareholder in Hadley and announced a £200 million investment in the UK property market in 2016.

While the identities of these individuals can be determined, others involved in the Totterdown development can’t be. Namely two mysterious companies, Innovative Tycoon Ltd and Invisible Ring Ltd, based in the notorious tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. As these companies have been established in a jurisdiction that facilitates secrecy it is unclear who is stands to gain from them. The Tax Justice Network have identified the BVI’s approach to secrecy as “lax, flexible, ask-no-questions, see-no-evil”.

Last week saw the Bristol Housing Festival, a showcase of innovative and ideas and ambitious solutions to the challenges of delivering the housing Bristol so desperately needs. It’s not clear how profiteering developers fit into these aims.

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