Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Swiss Model for Cheap Flats Should Chime with London; ON PROPERTY

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Swiss Model for Cheap Flats Should Chime with London; ON PROPERTY

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Bill

THE man who owns the company which built the clock mechanism which chimes Big Ben thinks it is time to build Londoners a couple of thousand three-bed flats to rent at [pounds sterling]300 a week. The man in question is a 45-year-old Geordie, Iain Hutchinson, who has already made enough money as a property developer to own a multimillion penthouse at the Thamesside Montevetro building in Battersea.

The clock company is Dent, a 196-year-old firm that also supplied a watch to the 1st Duke of Wellington and built the new St Pancras Station timepiece.

In 2008 Hutchinson launched the first new wristwatch range in 40 years. They are made in Switzerland. It is here the property tale begins: the former civil engineer noticed his workers lived in basic, but well-engineered, rented accommodation.

"I want to take the no-frills airline approach and build robust, spacious three-bed affordable flats that will last 200 years," said the snappily-dressed developer on Tuesday before going to lunch with a bunch of fellow Tory-supporting developers to bend the ear of housing minister, Grant Shapps. "Right now, builders are simply offering the same old for-sale product, for rent."

Not a bad time to try. Spending cuts are going to slash government-subsidised "affordable" homes. That, and cuts to housing benefit, will boost private landlords. Savills housing expert Yolande Barnes says: "Ultimately, the private sector will be catering for intermediate and open-market tenants, while the state-subsidised sector accommodates the poorest."

These changes will attract privatesector capital. Barnes says she expects there to be "significant appetite" from lenders to fund built-to-let schemes.

The cuts "could prove to be one of the single most important events in UK housing provision for decades", says Barnes. So, a good time for Hutchinson to set up the London Rental Housing Company. Three sites in Greenwich, Hillingdon and Croydon, capable of holding 750 homes, are under negotiation.

His handful of Swiss workers rent homes with polished concrete walls, wet-room bathrooms, plenty of storage space and industrial-strength finishes to the common circulation areas. …

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