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Londoners protest new housing law proposals as property prices soar

Thousands of Londoners turned out to protest proposed legislation which would alter the rights of public housing tenants. Property prices in the UK capital have soared in recent years.

Thousands of people have marched through London to protest the Housing and Planning Bill which is currently going through the British parliament.

The bill proposes the sale of high-value public housing, an end to local authorities' permanent tenancies and allowing some public housing rents to be set a local market levels.

Official figures from November showed the average price of buying a house in London was 664,600 euros ($727,500) compared to 245,000 euros across the whole of England and Wales.

Social housing tenant Joan Twelves said the legislation would have have a devastating effect on rents in London: "It will force people to pay market rents, something like five times the amount they are currently paying," she said. "It isn't affordable to the working class. We will be driven out of central London and forced to live on the edges."

The Conservative government says it wants to renovate run-down estates and provide new homes to buy rather than rent. "The Housing Bill ensures the sale of empty high value council assets will enable receipts to be reinvested in building new homes that better meet local needs as well as supporting home ownership." a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said.

The government aims to build an extra million homes by 2020, amounting to 200,000 houses per year.

Premium property tax proposal

The demonstration came as researchers calculated that a 10 percent levy on sales of houses worth more than 6.5 million euros would generate 114 million euros each year.

There has been a sharp rise in overseas buyers of London property since 2007 with many of the houses and flats remaining empty as owners use them as investments in a rising property market. In 2011 they accounted for 6.5 billion euros of housing sales. The foreign buyers are focussed in central areas such as Knightsbridge where 69 percent of homebuyers in 2011 were from overseas and in Belgravia and St John's Wood where the figure was 60 percent.

London is now home to 376,600 high-net-worth individuals, with investable assets of more than 920,000 euros, several thousand ultra-high-net-worth individuals, with assets of more than 27 million euros, and 80 billionaires.

jm/bw (AFP, Reuters)

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