Having been reminded repeatedly of the importance of the Property Awards in the run up to what are regarded as the industry Oscars, imagine my dismay on hearing a protest was expected.
What if people were put off attending? What if they got pelted with stuff? What if I got pelted with stuff in my finest feathers (literally)… on stage?
And then I thought: wait a minute, why are you concerned about something that is a) largely beyond your control and b) about as confused and misdirected a ‘cause’ as you can get?
As the tens (rather than hundreds claimed) gathered outside to chant: “developers get out, we know what you’re all about: evictions, home losses, money for your bosses” and “bedroom tax for the rich, mansions for the poor”, it quickly became clear that they didn’t have a grasp on the basics of what the property industry does. As I said in my speech, the industry is not about the mindless pursuit of profits, power and “mass gentrification”, as the protestors would have people believe, it is about entrepreneurialism, placemaking and an innate understanding of the vital role property plays in driving this country’s economy.
Helical Bar’s Gerald Kaye was equally nonplussed. “They obviously do not appreciate that for every ‘expensive’ residential property that is developed and indeed for any new development where there is an increase in floor space, there is a Section 106 payment, Community Infrastructure Levy, Crossrail levy and affordable housing contribution that gets generated,” he noted. “On top of that, there is the large number of jobs the construction process creates, the provision of new buildings for business or homes and new public realm.”
Also, as Lipton Rogers’ Rupert Clarke pointed out, phenomena such as low-value housing being replaced with high-value housing are not “the fault” of the property industry and therefore not a commercial issue as such, but a political one, and it was “totally within the gift of central and local government to set the agenda to meet the housing needs of all parts of society”.
So property folk are not quite the villains portrayed. Still, it all added a certain frisson to proceedings and was definitely a talking point - although fortunately not one that overshadowed the main event which, even if we do say so ourselves, went rather well - with particular highlights being John Burns’ touching speech on winning the Personality of the Year award, in which he credited his whole team, and King’s Cross scooping the special one-off prize of Most Innovative Development of the past twenty years in a live vote on the night.
Come on, admit it, even if you were among the first to take the scythe (Poldark-style, of course) to the tall poppy Tesco once was, you have to feel a tiny bit sorry for the lopped flower this week. The news of its record £6.4bn losses, caused largely by a £4.7bn writedown of its property assets, prompted Cantor Fitzgerald to suggest it should close a further 200 underperforming stores.
But should it? If Tesco cannot make these stores work, then who can and who is going to pay an attractive price for them? Shore Capital’s Clive Black is certainly not convinced it would be the right strategy and believes that if anything, the group will seek to buy more leases in to reduce its lease exposure and RPI+ rents.
Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: property looks set to play a key role in Dave Lewis’ ongoing rescue bid.