UK markets closed
  • FTSE 100

    +6.23 (+0.08%)
  • FTSE 250

    +180.74 (+1.00%)
  • AIM

    +1.20 (+0.17%)

    -0.0015 (-0.13%)

    -0.0005 (-0.04%)
  • Bitcoin GBP

    -26.51 (-0.12%)
  • CMC Crypto 200

    +0.90 (+0.15%)
  • S&P 500

    -11.65 (-0.27%)
  • DOW

    -158.84 (-0.47%)

    -0.94 (-1.02%)

    -14.00 (-0.75%)
  • NIKKEI 225

    -14.90 (-0.05%)

    +436.63 (+2.51%)
  • DAX

    +63.08 (+0.41%)
  • CAC 40

    +18.82 (+0.26%)

‘I’m very fortunate’: meet the Londoner who lives among billionaires for £200 a week

<span>Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Every time Kwame Agyekum’s mother comes to visit him at his flat she asks him: “You’re sure this is really your place and not a luxury hotel?”

“When she first came over she was like: ‘This does not feel like someone’s house. Are you sure it’s not a hotel?”’ Agyekum, 34, said. “I can see why she thought that with the concierge and the general ambience.”

Agyekum’s flat is within a new luxury development “in the shadow of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament” in central London. Apartments within the Millbank Quarter project are being marketed at overseas billionaires for as much as £35m.

The cheapest one-bedroom flats in the development – which is across the street from parliament and has views of the Thames – are on sale for £1.75m.

Studio apartments (estate agents’ new term for bedsits) that are significantly smaller than Agyekum’s one-bedroom flat are advertised to rent for more than £3,600 a month.

Agyekum’s rent is £862.42 a month. That’s because his flat is one of 13 “affordable homes” that Westminster city council required the developer, Berkeley Group, to provide for working Londoners under a section 106 agreement as condition of granting the planning application. There are nearly 200 apartments in total at the scheme.

Kwame Agyekum in his flat
Kwame Agyekum in his flat, which costs £862.42 a month. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Section 106 agreements, which are designed to force property developers to provide more affordable housing and other benefits for local communities, have proved highly controversial as developers have avoided meeting the commitments claiming that doing so would make the projects financially unviable. Recent examples include:

While the Millbank Quarter development contains 13 affordable homes, the council planning committee had said the developer should include 105 affordable units or a £32m payment in lieu.

“The applicant made a viability argument for a reduced affordable housing contribution and this was assessed on behalf of the city council by an independent viability consultant,” the council said.

“The consultant’s initial conclusion was that the scheme could support £7.04m in lieu of affordable housing on site but further assessment by the consultant resulted in the conclusion that the scheme could support the provision of nine intermediate units on site and a payment in lieu of affordable housing of £3.52m.” When the scheme was expanded the number of affordable units rose to 13.

The council, which was previously Conservative-controlled but is now Labour run, said: “The council changed control in May 2022 and this application was granted under the previous administration. The planning committee at that time accepted the developer’s viability assessment and its conclusion that the requirement for on-site affordable housing could not be delivered and therefore received a cash-in-lieu payment.

“Looking forward, we believe it’s vital to provide affordable homes in central London for the key workers that do the vital jobs that make our city a success. We have a strong commitment to ensuring new developments comply with the council’s established planning policies.”

A spokesperson for Berkeley Group said: “The scope of the s106 was determined by the council following detailed negotiations dating back to 2013. The council stipulated the mix of affordable homes on site, along with a multimillion-pound donation to a local homeless shelter.”

Kwame Agyekum
Kwame Agyekum says he is ‘very, very, very fortunate’. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Agyekum, who earns £34,500 a year as a business management officer for the House of Commons, said that without the provision of affordable housing there was “no way at all” he would be able to afford to live in central London. “The rent on the open market around here would be way more than all my salary a month,” he added.

Agyekum, who grew up in Hammersmith, said. “I’m very, very, very fortunate to not only have an affordable rent scheme, but in such an incredible location and in such an incredible building. So I yeah, I couldn’t be more grateful.”

His flat is one of 13 “intermediate affordable housing” one- to three-bedroom units within the development of former office buildings including the Grade-II listed former headquarters of the chemicals company ICI. The flats, which are owned by affordable housing charity Dolphin Living, are available to those who live or work in the borough of Westminster and earn incomes from £31,000 to £90,000.

Olivia Harris, the chief executive of Dolphin Living, said: “We believe that more needs to be done to support the delivery of affordable housing for workers on modest incomes, particularly as we look to the city’s recovery post-pandemic and how we attract and retain key workers in central London.”

“Over the last two years many key workers had to take lengthy commutes into the city while so many homes in the centre of capital sat empty. The pandemic has made us sit back and reconsider what we need from housing in London; it’s glaringly apparent that we need more affordable housing for key workers near to their places of work.”

While all the affordable flats in this development are occupied, those who live or work in Westminster can apply for other affordable housing schemes via Homes for Westminster, a council service to help provide homes for people within the borough.