It cost £1.2bn to build and it literally towers over London’s skyline. So why are most of the 72 storeys of the Shard, the tallest building in Europe, still empty?
I would venture to suggest that, while the price was paid by some of the wealthiest people on the planet – the oil-Rich Qataris – they failed to note those three basic requirement for success in the UK property market: location, location and – you guessed it – location. And, in their efforts to overcome this error, they are compounding it by refusing to accept that, will all respect to the South Bank, you simply cannot achieve West End and Knightsbridge prices at, erm, London Bridge.
The Shard’s observation deck can be accessed for £25 an hour, beating the London Eye’s £30 for a half-hour rotation. It may be popular, but it's not mobbed: there are tickets available for as far as the eye can see (no pun intended) including St Valentine’s, which this year falls on a Friday.
Meals at the three restaurants are priced to include the cost of the views. The set menu at the Chinese eaterie is £68 per head (+ drinks, minimum two diners). The other two offer breakfasts and they all occupy floors 31 – 33, so not even half way up.
But selling a meal, however fancy, is not the same as selling a home.
The Shard was designed to incorporate three two-storey duplexes and seven single storey apartments on floors 53 to 65. In May 2012 the developer set the price of the best duplex, 735 feet up in the air, at £50 million. I scoffed then and I scoff now: being the highest dwelling between London and Russia's Ural mountains, 2,000 miles to the east, may be something with which to amuse one’s guests, but it does not get over the basic problem. Emerging from the lift at the foot ofof the building, one is transformed from the lap of luxury onto the grimy, gritty knee of a major London commuter station. Beyond that, the less than salubrious local area awaits.
It is inconceivable to me that someone would dismiss the luxurious mansions of Mayfair and Kensington and their attractive streets, designer shops and top restaurants and spend tens of millions here, now.
Residents are offered access to the facilities of the Shangri-La's Hotel, including its swimming pool on the 52nd floor and dedicated high-speed lifts. But most of prime London’s best properties have private swimming pools already – or will soon have them. And high-speed lifts are not needed to get to you ground-level front door and garden.
Another building which is hindered by its location is St Pancras Chambers. Converted within one London’s finest historic buildings and adjacent to a fine hotel, a two-bed, two-bath apartment is now on the market asking £1,750,000. Had it been in Knightsbridge it would be worth at least twice that, but in London Bridge probably no more than half.
The Qataris are rich enough to let the Shard stand empty and seem willing to do that rather than compromise on the price. As any buyers are almost certain to be just as rich and foreign, I will leave them to it.
Mira Bar-Hillel is Property and Planning correspondent of the Evening Standard