One Kensington Gardens (source: author's photo)

Image: One Kensington Gardens (source: author's photo)

One Kensington Gardens consists of 97 luxury apartments ranging in price between £6 and £30 million. It is equipped with a gymnasium, swimming pool, spa, sauna, steam room and private car park. It is situated opposite Kensington Gardens in west London, and rarely are there any lights on. This building is a conspicuous example of the many empty and underused properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (hereafter, RBKC), a condition that has become endemic. The construction of One Kensington Gardens and other similar luxury homes are agreed between the developer and the council. Since the Thatcher era and the politics of privatisation, there has been more partnership with the private sector as the solution to housing shortages (Beswick and Penny 2018, 614).

Buy-to-leave gentrification is a process that occurs when properties are bought as investment vehicles and are left empty while the land value increases (Glucksberg 2016; Atkinson 2020). Empty homes do not support local services or facilities, and this negatively impacts community life in these areas. Meanwhile, such investments drive up house prices, which prevents working- or middle-class residents from moving into the area, and those who have grown up in the area from being able to stay – a form of exclusionary displacement.

In my interviews with residents and councillors, I found that many people referred to One Kensington Gardens when talking about empty homes, gentrification and the planning decisions made by the council. Using a combination of phone, Zoom and face-to-face interviews with residents and councillors, alongside questionnaire responses, I explored the impact of these empty homes. For many long-standing residents, there were concerns about the way expensive luxury yet empty homes had ‘priced out local communities who have to move out’ (Stephan, questionnaire 2020) and made ‘the streets seem sterile’ (Dilbur, questionnaire 2020).

In other cases, residents directly referenced how empty homes via offshore money investments led to feelings of alienation and loss of community. Molly (questionnaire 2020) stated:

‘My whole street has become gentrified. Many of the properties are not occupied. The community that I moved into 50 odd years ago has been exterminated by offshore money! … When I think of the homelessness in the area, the breakdown of communities…. The empty multi roomed properties, my blood boils!’

Other residents highlighted the decline and demolition of social housing that occurs while people continue to keep their homes empty. Matthew (questionnaire 2020) from Holland Park, wrote,

‘people who need more accessible homes or who are homeless are forced to live in misery while perfectly fine properties are left empty at our expense.’

The discussions with residents revealed the ways that buy-to-leave homes were closely associated with super-gentrification and the takeover of the mega-rich, thereby creating further displacement pressures. In response, I found that some RBKC councillors recognised and sympathised with residents when it came to the detrimental effects of luxury empty homes. For example, Conservative councillor Mike (interview 2020) recalled how One Kensington Gardens is that

‘awful thing…no lights on, no social housing and the history of planning was such that they gave capital to the council [but] it’s not accommodating people, they’re not contributing to the local community, they might well do for a couple of weeks a year when they’re coming on holiday but there’s no vibrancy in that.’

Labour councillor, Jasar (interview 2020) similarly noticed that 

‘only 3 apartments are actually occupied.’ 

However, Conservative councillor, Deborah acknowledged the benefit of empty homes from the purpose of the owner occupier: ‘London is seen as a safe place to stash your cash.’ Sahil, Conservative councillor, (interview 2020) said that empty homes were ‘sad’ but despite the ‘millions of people who are homeless, there’s exceptions to every case and maybe Kensington could be one.’  In contrast, Conservative councillor, Harry (interview 2020) stated ‘the area is not owned by the super-rich or even rich.’ While the increasing number of offshore ownership of properties worth millions of pounds in the Royal Borough tells another story (see McKenzie and Atkinson 2020), Harry felt that Kensington was not worth studying. He told me:  ‘it’s a surprise you can spend three years studying this borough, I would have looked at Westminster’ [1].

Many residents argued that the council are largely on the side of developers and therefore will continue to facilitate more buy-to-leave gentrification. Oliver (interview 2020) also discussed the role of the council in allowing the super-rich to buy up and convert flats:

‘The council takes fees to grant building approvals… building work has been constant since the council granted basement construction licenses… what it has done is increase gentrification by turning homes into property development opportunities only fully realisable to the super wealthy.’

Indeed, despite having financial reserves of 1.9 million in March 2021 (RBKC 2022), most social infrastructure funding has been used for artworks, sculptures, and security patrols around multimillion-pound homes (Booth 2023). Therefore rather than being used for community benefits like social housing and infrastructure, this funding is essentially going back to the super-rich.

Discussions with residents and councillors revealed the ways that empty buy-to-leave homes reinforced and strengthened the wider super-gentrification of the borough, and showed how the lived experiences and consequences of both are so closely interrelated. Meanwhile many residents in Kensington have discussed their view that councillors work in conjunction with developers to reshape homes and spaces across the borough and this investment leads to displacement pressures. While the Royal Borough continues to gentrify to make way for the mega-rich - with buildings like One Kensington Gardens exemplifying this trend - the residents described here, and many more, continue to be isolated from their community and displaced from their homes.


Atkinson, R. (2020). Complex Edifice. [online] Alpha City. Available at: Accessed Feb 20, 2020.

Beswick, J and Penny, J. (2018). ‘Demolishing the Present to Sell off the Future? The Emergence of ‘Financialized Municipal Entrepreneurialism’ in London.’ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 612-632.

Booth, R. (2023). ‘London council spending thousands on art and security patrols in opulent wards.’ The Guardian [online]. Available at: Accessed October 13, 2023.

Glucksberg, L. (2016) ‘A view from the top: Unpacking capital flows and foreign investment in prime London.’ City 20/2, 238-255.

McKenzie, R and Atkinson, R. (2020). ‘Anchoring capital in place: The grounded impact of international wealth chains on housing markets in London.’ Urban Studies 57/1, 21-38.

RBKC (2022). ‘Infrastructure Funding Statement.’ Available at: Accessed June 10, 2023.

[1] Westminster neighbours RBKC and has a high number of empty homes with property prices averaging at one million pounds.

You can read the article at the link above

Dr. Sharda Rozena is an urban geographer whose doctorate was on gentrification, displacement and facadism in Kensington and Chelsea. Sharda is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield looking at the last regulated tenants in the UK. You can find Sharda with the Twitter (rebranded as X) handle, @RozenaSharda.

The Housing Studies Association (HSA) is a limited company registered in England and Wales under company number 13958843 at 42 Wellington Road, Greenfield, OL3 7AQ.
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