Space in London is a coveted asset - and at a premium thanks to its scarcity. One of the most densely populated cities in the world, London is a thoroughfare for currency, and the cost of obtaining a slice of the capital is elevated far beyond the means of the majority - writes James Durose-Rayner
Property prices in London dwarf any other region in the UK on average, with a typical house in London valued on average at £578,381 - with an average property in the rest of England and Wales coming in at £278,750.
It means that any opportunity to snaffle land in London is hotly contested. Corporate giants and entrepreneurs lock horns each and every day, as our capital gets sliced up into smaller and smaller pieces.
So a plan to utilise the prime space in unused and abandoned tube stations in the heart of London was always going to make excellent business sense.
In 2008, a certain Ajit Chambers happened upon an old map which listed 26 abandoned tube stations in central London. It may sound like the start of an adventure caper on the big screen, but Mr Chambers was to instantly recognise the potential of his find. From scribing the foundations of his great scheme on the walls of his London flat, Ajit Chambers took this inauspicious seed and cultivated it into something with grand potential.
Instantly quitting his job, Chambers went to work drawing up plans to convert these lucrative spaces into venues and tourist attractions, with a projected £200m profit. Collaborating with the London Mayor at the time, Boris Johnson, and TfL, Ajit Chambers planned to eventually hand the reins of his brainchild over to the above after taking £7m from the projected £200m profit margin.
Boris Johnson, sated by the answers of Chambers after meeting with him, even spoke on BBC Parliament TV on the matter, saying “we will do it if it doesn’t cost a penny of public money.’’
Seeing as the investors found by Chambers bypassed this hurdle, it meant that the project had been verbally approved by the then London Mayor!
Chambers had sourced investors in advance which meant that there would be no cost involved for the state. Chambers received acknowledgment from Parliament for his work and met with the Prime Minister to discuss the venture. Chambers walked every step to ensure no stone was left unturned.
Speaking to the man in question on behalf of NATM Magazine, he told me of the surveys that he put in place and teams of workmen that he sent to Down Street - one of the sites in question - so costs could be projected and made feasible. The queries regarding public expense that were raised by Boris Johnson in initial meetings were satisfied. Ajit Chambers’ dedication to his plan allowed no room for grey areas, and this meant that his vision was beginning to come to fruition.
It all sounds amicable enough at that point, but if we leap forward 7 years to the present day, we have Mr Chambers taking Transport for London to court on 4 different charges, and the fallout from events that transpire in the courtroom could well have massive ramifications for the capital.
Ajit Chambers alleges that not only have TfL attempted to steal his intellectual property, but he has also been subjected to harassment by top level executives in TfL. In Chambers’ own words, he says this court case “will be the largest law suit in the history of Transport for London.”
The bell is set to ring for Round One, but it wasn’t always so hostile.
Chambers previously worked with London Mayor Boris Johnson and members of TfL until 2015, when his apparent discovery of fraudulent procurement processes - which he states are similar to the flawed Garden Bridge Project - caused him to leave. Since his departure from the bidding process, Chambers has worked tirelessly in gathering evidence for the impending court dates, and also some powerful people in politics are backing the plucky businessman.
Not least of all is Sir Vince Cable.
The current leader of the Liberal Democrats said on the 5th of April 2017 “Mr Chambers came to see me about his dispute with TfL some time ago and I tried to assist him also. I would concur with the comments of his former MP and my former ministerial colleague Norman Baker.”
The comments Sir Vince Cable referred to were from Rt Hon Mr Baker, the former Transport Minister, speaking to London Loves Business;
“I have examined this matter in some detail and frankly, it appears that TfL has simply stolen Mr Chambers’ creative work. The procurement process has strong echoes of the faulty Garden Bridge process. I suggest the court look closely into the detail of Mr Chambers’ case against TfL, if justice is to be done.”
This is not just a scorned former business partner looking to even the score, it seems. The words from these esteemed men say in no uncertain terms that they agree Mr Chambers has every chance to prove himself in court.
The plot thickens as Ajit has yet another supporter in his claims, and it is yet another former Member of Parliament.
The former Intellectual Property Advisor to the Prime Minister, Mike Weatherley, also backs Ajit Chambers’ stance, who had this to say in his time in Parliament;
“I think this is a wonderful idea to open some of them up to the public, which is why I tabled the Early Day Motion. That this house congratulates The Old London Underground Company on its efforts in opening up London’s ghost stations and deep level shelters to the public as a viable enterprise following HM Treasury’s Wider Markets Initiative. This house recognises that the Old London Underground Company requests assistance from Transport for London to include international press in the site visit for hon, Members and Lords to visit a ghost station site; and supports Ajit Chambers with the next stage of this exciting opportunity for outside investment in the leisure and tourism sector.” Early Day Motion 2853.
Ajit Chambers seems to be well armed in preparation for his legal battle with TFL. He has high profile names in his corner and he is rightfully bullish about his chances. He feels wronged, and is confident that he will receive justice after spending two years working with his legal team to create this case.
Mr Chambers told me, “I woke up every morning with the feeling that TfL tried to throw cold buckets of water over me throughout the night, and yet each morning that tiny ember that was left turned back into a raging fire.”
That is the initial feeling I had when speaking to Mr Chambers. This man is fuelled and ready to go the distance.
Mr Chambers also supplied me with a quote from the MD of London Underground, Richard Parry, in a City Hall meeting, in which Mr Parry said of Mr Chambers’ plans;
“These stations do not exist. If Ajit tells me where they are, my team will prove they do not exist.”
It seems the mountain of work Ajit had put in would have been the ultimate foolhardy errand if he was planning on using sites that were not real.
Ajit also alleges that he received threatening late evening phone calls from TfL Commercial Director Graeme Craig and Deputy Mayor for Transport Isabel Dedring, which are said to have included the lines, “If you sue TfL, this won’t go well for either of us,” and “Although I liked you, you are a sad individual and I will sue you.”
Ajit is using these as logs on a roaring bonfire, which is powering him all the way to the High Court, and is investing a figure of £500,000 in his case to win damages.
Ajit Chambers’ case with the High Court is soon to begin, and it will be another intriguing installment of what is fast becoming a no-holds-barred contest. In one corner is the brave entrepreneur who seeks what is his, and in the other corner is the giant with an imperious record.
Business in London is cutthroat at the best of times, and the winner of this tussle will be credited with this fantastic plan that is well worth fighting tooth and nail over. The battle began well before the Judge sat down to preside over affairs though.
Ajit Chambers is primed and soon enough the case will be put in front of judge and jury for the custody rights to an idea that will change London completely.
Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro
Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.
President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”
The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi.
European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.
Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.
European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case
The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.
In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.
The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.
The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.
Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.
For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.
The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.
Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.
A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.
Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation
On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.
At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.
The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.
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