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Propertyshe Perspectives: preparing to emerge from lockdown

Posted on 22 June 2020

Plans are afoot to support the beleaguered hospitality sector as operators get ready to emerge from three months of lockdown. 

Westminster Council are planning to relax licensing regulations and allow restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars to put tables on the streets in parts of London’s west end including Soho, St James’s, Mayfair and Covent Garden.

This will be achieved by the use of temporary events notices, which will override the normal restrictions on serving food and drink outdoors until legislation brings about a more permanent easing of the rules. Soho Estates and Shaftesbury have launched a Soho Summer Street Festival, an initiative aimed at boosting London’s food and drink scene. The Government has promised a further easing of the lockdown from 4 July so time is of the essence and as Soho Estates Chairman Steve Norris commented, ‘Westminster do have to deliver quickly on this, or frankly it won’t be worth doing.

The festival is due to start on the 4th of July. That gives us three months of trading before the weather is likely to take street eating off the menu’. Hopefully, on this occasion, the livelihoods of the hundreds of business owners and their staff will take precedence over the inevitable objections from local residents.

All this unaccustomed ‘al fresco’ activity will help kick start the recently reopened west end retail sector and bring a much needed summer vibe to our streets. In the absence of Ascot, Wimbledon, local fetes and all the other events that brighten the British summer calendar, and with little prospect of overseas holidays, we are going to need to create our own entertainment. We are now in the hands of the weather gods!

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are playing a key role in helping businesses recover from the pandemic as evidenced by the role of New West End Company in the reopening of the west end’s retail. In this week’s London Property Alliance webinar on the key role of BIDs, Simon Loomes, Strategic Projects Director at The Portman Estate described them as ‘the most important organisations alongside local councils’. I have been a signed up member of the BIDs fan club since the now famous Pat Brown study group trip to New York some 20 years ago which included real estate luminaries such as Jackie Sadek, Tony Travers, Alistair Subba Row and many more. We went to investigate what BIDs had achieved in New York and whether they would translate to the UK. There are now 300 BIDs across the UK of which 60 are in London. For background on the creation of UK BIDs, see my vintage Property Week column ‘The BIDs are all right’.

By way of minor correction, I was on the board of the original Holborn Business Partnership but not chairman, although I do now chair the excellent Holborn BID Property Group. The column explains why property owners were not initially included in UK BID membership. However, things have moved on and there are now two property owner BIDs in London, New West End Company and Heart of London, and hopefully we will see more.

This week I tuned in to the Fifth Wall VC Fund Fly on the Wall podcast in which Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace interviewed Chris Grigg, CEO of British Land. I have listened avidly to the whole series but it’s the first time I have heard Venice Beach based Wallace interview a British guest. Wallace is a great interrogator and it is worth a listen for many insights from Grigg including around cyber security concerns relating to buildings powered by the internet of things and data privacy issues particularly in our post pandemic world.

And there is the added bonus of another cameo appearance by Wallace’s extremely well informed dog, Lady Macbeth. Wallace was my very first guest when I started the Propertyshe podcast. When I met him in our Soho recording studio straight off his flight from LA, he asked me if I had done many podcasts and I had to admit that his was my first and that I was a complete novice. There was so much fascinating proptech ground to cover that the interview went well over time but Episode 1 remains one of my favourites.

I will finish this week’s reflections on the topic of housing.

This week’s Movers and Shakers webinar asked the pertinent question ‘How do we deliver more and better rented homes?’ The excellent panel included Legal & General’s Dan Batterton, Clare Coghill, Leader of the London Borough of Waltham Forest, Greystar’s James Pargeter and London Deputy Mayor for Housing, Tom Copley. The panel was chaired by Future for London CEO, Nicola Mathers.

The discussion highlighted the misunderstanding of what Build to Rent (BTR) is and the ongoing confusion between BTR and Buy to Let. Copley made the point that the boroughs aren’t familiar with the BTR concept nor the difference between amateur Buy to Let landlords and the emerging professionally managed sector. As Batterton explained, they have had to build to prove the concept by building units and to show that BTR developers will be there for the long term. Copley stressed the need for 35% affordable units in BTR schemes but, as Batterton explained, 35% affordable doesn’t tell him as a developer how much rent he will have to forgo. Coghill recognised that BTR is ‘politically challenged’ and that the development sector needs to be better at communicating that it is building homes for the local market and also creating jobs both during construction and longer term.

The sector needs to tell the stories of the people who are able to build their lives in the new homes, she said. Coghill also acknowledged that this applied to the whole development sector and not just BTR. This took me back to last year’s British Property Foundation perception audit which showed that only 27% of the general public were favourable towards the sector.

As a sector, we have a great story to tell but we need to tell it better, which in turn will help us build trust and to make a positive difference to local communities.

Please click here to read the article, originally published by Property Week (subscription required).

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