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London’s realty market keeps politics at bay

That mega deals continue to happen is a function of internal industry dynamics

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Since the Brexit referendum, the UK has effectively been on hold.

The property market however has remained active, supported with continuing foreign investment. Domestic players are finding themselves competing for land or assets against the weight of money and demand from overseas.

The London investment market has been the recipient of a number of large flagship sales — The Leadenhall Building was snapped up by CC Land, whilst Hong Kong’s Lee Kuma Keep purchased The Walkie Talkie for a record breaking £1.3 billion. More recently, Middle East’s Al Ain Properties emerged as the mystery buyer behind the £285 million acquisition of Lacon London.

In the residential land market we have seen CC Land and R&F Properties purchase large development sites in Vauxhall and Nine Elms. The growth of the emerging build-to-rent sector continues apace with increasing interest from both domestic and international developers, investors and funds looking to capitalise on the need for new homes across all housing tenures. US firms Greystar and Lone Star, among others, have imported their version of build-to-rent, as big businesses continue to signal their confidence in the sector.

London, it seems, is confident of its status as a property investment destination with a mature, transparent and liquid market, even with a backdrop of political bickering and economic uncertainties. That was the picture painted by the inaugural “London Development Barometer”.

We wanted to understand what keeps the industry up at night and what they think could be done to enable London development activities in the next five years. We surveyed 243 professionals from across the industry, quizzing them on topics that included government policy, market demand, infrastructure, and finance availability, to gain an understanding of what the market really thinks.

It came as no surprise that 57 per cent believe there will be less development activity over the next five years. Eighty per cent of respondents believe that Brexit will take its toll, with availability of finance also playing its part, albeit to a lesser extent, with just 5 per cent believing it will have a significantly negative impact.

Construction was also singled out as a problem — limited skills and capacity and rising costs are predicted to have a negative impact, according to 78- and 70 per cent, respectively. The industry is concerned about the influence of external affairs, matters that largely lie beyond the control of the individual.

We also discovered that the concerns are met with pragmatism. Take the London residential market, where there is a real need for more homes and where demand will naturally continue to rise. Eighty-eight per cent were confident about the growth of build-to-rent, compared to 45 per cent for the residential sales model.

And 80% believe there will be a rise in demand for affordable housing and 47 per cent see a rise in demand for student accommodation. The industry believes that market demand for all sectors — except retail — will increase in the next five years. Investment opportunities will follow.

There is optimism, too — 82 per cent predict large scale infrastructure projects such as Crossrail 2 will have a positive impact, and 67 per cent believe that continued Government investment will have the same effect.

Two in three respondents believe the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is the most influential figure within London development. However, 86 per cent believe that the central and local governments are not doing enough to enable development activity.

Ironically, the hot topics for the government and lobby groups, like promoting Help to Buy, addressing anticipated construction skills shortages and amending stamp duty are at the bottom of the development industry’s priority list.

The development sector has accepted that all things Brexit will remain uncertain for a while — except that it will likely have a negative influence in the short term. It has taken on board that the global political and economic climate will shift and evolve with some degree of unpredictability, which appears to be the new norm.

It is aware of the pitfalls of potentially losing skilled workers en masse and rising construction costs.

There is nevertheless a particular need for housing and there is a demand for London property across various sectors. London property remains attractive to Middle Eastern and global investors, as recent transactions show.

The industry has latched on to the practical approach. In various ways it is lobbying and encouraging central and local governments to make it easier and less risky to develop through policy and investment. It will work out how to do the rest.

As the construction industry makes up 6 per cent of the UK GDP and three million jobs, it doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

The writer is Director at M3 Consulting.