A Docklands developer and the bridge that links dreams with reality

My Week

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An icy day found me standing in an industrial wasteland in London’s Docklands waiting to meet Sir Stuart Lipton, the veteran property boss who wants to develop the area of the East End known as Silvertown.

His consortium has got a 62-acre site, right by the end of the runway at City Airport.

When we got in a car, and I could warm up, we drove around the property. It’s huge – as big as St James’s Park in the centre of London. Listening to Sir Stuart, 72, and gazing out across the flat, barren landscape, I realised that the redevelopment of the old docks area has barely started. This one massive swathe could go a long way towards solving London’s pressing housing needs.  

As Sir Stuart described his £1.5bn vision for Silvertown, there was no doubting his enthusiasm. Even so, there was also no denying the risk involved. Then he casually mentioned that he was building a bridge across the old dock, to connect with the new Crossrail station. From there, he said, it would be possible to get to Heathrow in 45 minutes. Suddenly, it all slotted into place.

A long-term vision

Where would we be without the Stuart Liptons? I say this because many businesses and a large part of the City think short-term. He is planning a project that will take seven to ten years to reach fruition, and has no idea what the economic conditions will be like when it’s finished.

That’s what I call enterprise

Hats off to the chap at St Pancras station who put a pair of shoes on the ground next to a begging bowl and a sign that says “Invisible Man”. The bowl is full of coins. Presumably, he is standing guard nearby. If I were in business and had a vacancy, I’d seek the genius out and offer him a job.

One law for them...

Shortly before the report by Clifford Chance lawyer Simon Davis on the botched Financial Conduct Authority press briefing that led to a collapse in insurers’ share prices, a senior banker shares his  feelings with me.  Imagine if we’d behaved like that, he says, –imagine what fine we’d have to pay.

It’s true. While the watchdog was not guilty of rate fixing or mis-selling, it committed a mistake not dissimilar to the IT howlers that beset the banks from time to time. They’re punished heavily and humiliated publicly, but when the FCA does the equivalent, nothing happens.

A deficit of experience

The Davis report is a shocker. What it highlights, in addition to a lumbering bureaucracy, is the absence of people at the watchdog with real front-line financial and markets experience. It’s a chasm that needs filling.

Watchdog with no teeth

It hasn’t been a good week for the FCA. The regulator reports that its investigation into the annuity market found clear evidence of pensions firms encouraging consumers not to shop around for better products. It’s there, in black and white: the insurers were mis-selling.

But rather than order compensation, what does the FCA do? It says it will investigate further.

It’s as if it cannot face the magnitude of the issue, for the figures are huge. The FCA review goes back to 2008, and every year since then around 400,000 people have bought annuities. On average, 50 per cent failed to look elsewhere. Of those, 79 per cent could have got a better deal. My rudimentary maths says that could amount to 960,000 who might have a claim. As for those who bought an “enhanced annuity” because they had a lower life expectancy, 92 per cent could have benefited from switching.

The total payouts for enhanced annuities alone could surpass £1bn.

Does the FCA not have the stomach for what would be another protracted clean-up operation? Or is there some other agenda at work – that this would be a further blow to the City’s prestige?

If I were a banker, I’d be hopping mad at what seems special treatment for the insurers. Still more aggrieved will be the consumers who were sold a pup.