The Design Centre has been on my to-do list since it opened three months ago (note NOT a bucket list. I’m not there yet!). Every time I drive past, I tick a mental box but, well, you know what it’s like when something is on your doorstep…there’s always another day, isn’t there…
However, the news that the Annual Art 2017 Exhibition had opened in Holland Park Orangery and that it had been organised and curated by our very own Gordon French and Family was the cultural kick-start I needed. Despite having lived in Kensington for the last twenty three years, this is the first time I have been to the Holland Park show and I am ashamed that I have been so remiss. It is delightful and presents some beautiful art works covering all artistic fields. This year’s featured artist is Olive Chalmers whose exquisite botanicals are as detailed and delicate as the genre demands. I have always loved botanicals for their obsessive attention to the minutiae of plant forms combined with a subtle yet glowing depiction of their natural colourings. Ms Chalmer’s works achieve a rare perfection and it is not surprising that she is so widely collected.
The range of art is impressive. Whether abstract or figurative, water colour, acrylic or oil, the standard is excellent. I loved the ceramics, especially Russell Mack’s Green Man and the stoneware clay of Hazel Leach and Alex Longmore. Also, the intriguing smaller ceramic egg-shaped containers make far more interesting gifts than chocolates or flowers. Gordon French’s evocative mixed media work The Merchant took me back to the Orient and to the sepia-tinted world of robed traders sitting in doorways, guarding their precious stock tucked into the labyrinth of tiny rooms behind their ever-open door.
So, if you haven’t been yet, gird up your loins and get there before the ninth April. It is worth it.
And then, on the way back, drop into The Design Museum. What a revelation! I was last in there just before it closed and though the dilapidation was extensive and the damp damage pitiful, the original concept shone through the neglect. This building, Modernist if ever there was one, was built in 1962 when Zaha Hadid, the High Priestess of Modernism, was only twelve years old. In its soaring ceilings and swooping curving galleries, it is truly ground-breaking and prefigures much of her much later, more famous work. As a piece of architecture, it was and still is absolutely magnificent. The renovation, using contrasting materials of pale wood, marble, smooth paint surfaces and metals, glorifies its innovative use of space and the interplay of light and shade pulses life into the surfaces and levels of the structure. The United Kingdom has been criticised for a pastiche approach to architecture and an abject fear of the non-traditional. The Commonwealth Centre, as it then was known, was always iconic architecture at its best and we should be proud that we, in Kensington, have offered the Design Museum a new permanent home in one of London’s most stunning exhibition spaces. A Must Visit, if ever there was and one of the features which makes Kensington a great place to live.
Now, on another more “residential” concern.
The last three years have brought major changes to property ownership, the use of corporate structures to hold possession of properties and the withdrawal of many of the benefits which these structures provided. Such properties, whether free-standing freeholds or leasehold apartments in mansion blocks are now unable to avoid CGT, Stamp Duty, IHT or Community Charge and the establishment of a Register of Beneficial Owners is set to reduce the veils of anonymity such property ownership once enjoyed.
One aspect, which relates predominantly to flats, appears to be have been overlooked. In a flat held under lease and whether within a “share of freehold” or by an external freeholder, the main obligation of the lessee is to pay the service charge. Those leaseholders who (stubbornly) do not pay can be pursued by legal means right through to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal. The penalties can, in extreme cases, result in forfeiture of the lease itself. However, if a leaseholder reneges upon this obligation, and if ownership of the property is vested in an offshore company, even if the property is commercialised and earning a rental income in the UK with tenants resident and registered in the UK, it is almost impossible to pursue these leaseholders through the UK courts. Legal procedures can only be served in the country in which ownership is registered and some countries are notoriously difficult (and expensive) when this process is attempted. Panama is one such country. The United Arab Emirates are equally unresponsive, especially if the ultimate owner is one of their nationals, and there are others. An application must first be made to the LVT to obtain permission to sue for payment in these external jurisdictions. Only then can the first and most basic steps be initiated and the potential for success is limited. It is virtually impossible to place a lien upon the property or to effect a charge, even upon a UK letting agent who collects the rent, to obtain unpaid dues.
We have one such leaseholder in our building and, I am beginning to hear similar tales from elsewhere. A recent discussion with our company’s lawyers revealed that there is a substantial number of non-resident leaseholders who are using this loophole to avoid payment of contractual obligations. Everything else has been tightened up, particular with regard to HMRC. This aspect has fallen through the gap and affects primarily co-residents who end up almost financing the shortfalls caused by these offenders. Given the huge efforts made by property developers to attract overseas investors and the fact that the UK is one of the world’s most unrestricted ownership markets, this needs to be addressed. It should be possible to pursue legally through UK courts a company/property where the property is physically located in the UK, regardless of where it is registered or where its owner lives.
So to all you lawyers, councillors, MPs etc who are in our locality, I say “don the thinking cap”. I would to love to hear experiences and even some suggestions how to redress this anomaly. There must be a way.
Joannah Yacoub, originally from the far north but resident in London since 1973 and Kensington Court since 1993, has views on what has to be her home city, no matter where she originally came from.