This story is over 5 years old.

Kensington and Chelsea

The Super-Rich Retirement Flats Being Built on a Former Public Nursing Home

The "Grenfell" council is proving that you can gentrify long into old age.
A still from the Auriens website

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – still reeling from its negligence and mishandling of the Grenfell Tower fire – are flogging-off the borough's last remaining council-run nursing home to a luxury developer, based on a dubious health and safety argument.

The £200 million "Auriens" development, in Kensington, West London, is the fanciest retirement home you could ever dream of waiting to die in. If you have a spare £3 million lying around that you don't want to leave as inheritance to your ingrate offspring, you could buy into "the private members' clubs of retirement homes" (The Times). It has "The luxurious surroundings that might be found at One Hyde Park meet the top notch hospitality of Claridges" (The Telegraph). It promises new residents "the qualities of a luxury hotel" combined with "best-in-class" healthcare services.


Unfortunately, the home will stand on the site of the former council-run Thamesbrook nursing and care home, where places were allocated to old people based on a needs assessment by the council, not sold for stupid sums of money. The new Auriens "extra care facility", was granted planning permission by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in April.

The former Thamesbrook care home, which was shut down in July 2015, and is due for demolition later this year, was, in the council's own words, one of the "few homes in the UK still run by a local authority and the only one run by the Council". Instead of seeing this as a reason to keep it, the council used it as a justification to close it down. The home was shut, its former residents displaced, many outside the borough, and the land leased off to a private developer.

The facility is due to open in 2019, and will include a spa, a restaurant, concierge and chauffeur service. Auriens' vision says, "age is more than just a number – it's a rite of passage to a lifestyle that is as entertaining and enjoyable as it is comfortable", but not if you can't afford it.

The exclusivity of the new retirement apartments is half the point, according to the PR spiel on the developer's website: "Auriens combines the privacy, magic and social scene of a members' club with the logic and luxury of comprehensive best-in-class healthcare services."

An image from the Auriens brochure

The flashy Auriens brochure is stuffed with the kind of staged images you tend to get for penthouse flats. There are fabulous old ladies dripping in jewellery, doing a sort of weird aspirational laugh; a dapper old gent is dressed and shaved by a helper, a discerning shopping-bag laden woman gazes spots another must-have in a Kings Road boutique.


"Thamesbrook is tired and institutional", read the Council's statement justifying the closure. "Rather than the one size fits all service, local authorities are these days trying to deliver care tailored or 'personalised' to individual need."

The council identified an issue with the home's water system as a reason to shut it down. They found "intractable Legionella bacteria" in the water. This is very common in buildings of this age and can be remedied fairly easily. Legionnella bacteria is "a problem that independent hospital water specialists described as simple to treat and quick to make safe", wrote the local news website at the time, which opposed the sell-off.

Instead of treating the water at Thamesbrook, the council decided to evacuate the home, and then shut it permanently pending demolition.

Then there's the council's financial justification for the closure. "A place at Thamesbrook costs approximately twice as much as a place in a private nursing home", says the council's statement. That may be so in some cases, but presumably they don't mean it costs the council twice as much as somewhere you have to pay £3 million to get through the door, before you start paying service fees.

When approached for comment by VICE, the council said that they've "earmarked" a piece of land nearby to build "55 affordable extra care units amongst other uses". However Thamesbrook has been closed for over three years and the council did not indicate when the new homes would be built. A councillor who sits on the council's planning committee told VICE she had seen no plans for the development beyond this statement.


The move comes at a time when K&C is coming under mounting scrutiny over its privatisation activities generally. The leasing off of the borough's oldest library to a private school was recently put on hold after public outrage; there's a separate fight to save an adult education college from being turned into flats.

Linda Wade, a Lib Dem councillor in the borough who recently criticised the council of being "out of touch with the realities of life for many", joined these dots together when I spoke to her on the phone.

At the root of it, Wade says, "it's the same as Grenfell: Thamesbrook shows how the council place more importance on making money than on caring for humans."

"Just like North Kensington Library, Thamesbrook was set up to deliver services and benefits for our residents. Not choosing to redevelop these sites to meet local needs, is like selling off the family silver at a time when RBKC has nearly £280 million in reserve," the councillor added. "We've got an ageing population, a crisis of care, and the council's sold off its only publicly accessible nursing and care home; they're failing to plan for the future."

Part of the appeal of Auriens will be it's proximity to two world-renowned hospitals, the Royal Brompton and the Royal Marsden, says Bella Hardwick of K&C Residents Save Our Hospitals, a group who've been campaigning against the Auriens development. "In what is a sick twist to redevelopment, only the very wealthy will be able to live in close proximity to these hospitals. Whether it is social housing, an extra care home, a nursery or a library, nothing is safe from demolition or regeneration by RBKC Council. RBKC, like London, has become a sweet shop for developers and nothing seems to stop the rot."

Councillor Wade sat on many of the council's committees that discussed and voted on the Thamesbrook closure and sale of the land; votes she dissented on. "I asked the council's director of planning how much they sold the land for and how much the developer is projected to make." They didn't respond. "The whole thing's shrouded in secrecy", says Wade. Indeed, what K&C sold the leasehold to Auriens for was listed as "confidential/exempt" on the council's website on a page that has since been removed. There's no information about how long the lease is for, even though the council is selling off public land.

Auriens is just one development among many looking to cash-in on an ageing population and the huge seam of wealth held by the Baby Boomer generation. According to the company's co-founder Johnny Sandelson, "The world is obsessed with millennials but we see a huge opportunity at the other end of the market, amongst a group we have dubbed 'perennials'."

According to its "vision" Auriens is "dedicated to challenging and subverting the norms of post-retirement (later) living." The residents of Kensington and Chelsea may be wondering if that needs to come at the cost of losing a publicly funded retirement home.