David Atkins is still at the wheel at Hammerson until a replacement chief executive is found. On Monday, Rob Noel entered the map room of the drifting retail giant as incoming chairman. The former Landsec boss is now in charge of plotting the future direction of the listing ship, with effective oversight of selecting a new chief executive.

Peter Bill

Peter Bill

Noel does not have a free hand. A second board appointment was announced: Des de Beer (net worth £1.3bn), who is boss of Resilient Property. Affiliate Lighthouse Capital owns 15% of Hammerson. Resilient holds 24 malls in South Africa, covering 10m sq ft of space. They badly want to shift capital from their troubled homeland.

The ‘challenges’ listed by Resilient in January included ‘political and economic uncertainty’ and ‘government departments and local authorities’. (No guesses as to what that means.) And the opportunities? ‘Attractive pricing of European malls.’ Hammerson looks attractive, viewed from Johannesburg at least. Let’s hope it looks that way to putative new captains.

Time for launch

There was another hiring at International Property Securities Exchange (IPSX) last week, with former Panmure Gordon MD Richard Lester joining the business that was founded in 2014 but has yet to launch a single initial public offering (IPO) of real-estate-backed shares. In January 2019, IPSX raised £11.3m by selling shares after burning through £5m in 2017 and 2018. Last June, British Land was to IPO an ‘iconic’ portfolio. But the FTSE began a 1,000-point dip in the May, falling from 7,700 to 6,700 by Christmas. Not a good time to float your boat if you want to see it rise.

Then came the pandemic. Word is, a flotilla of IPOs is ready to launch in Q3. The FTSE seems steady at the moment, despite the pandemic and fears of recession. Time for IPSX to catch the tide, even if it turns to ebb.

The Westferry circus

The financial evaluation summary of Richard Desmond’s plan to build 1,524 flats at Westferry on the Isle of Dogs (pictured), carried out by Gerald Eve in June 2019, reveals a development return of £131m on costs of £905m, which sounds about right.

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The input cost of the 15-acre site was £45m, which feels like a fair present-day value – although why £3m was added in for acquisition costs may need explaining. The Mayoral CIL amounted to £10.4m. The Section 106 contribution was to be £5.7m – ‘was’, because, as the world knows, housing secretary Robert Jenrick is in the stocks for giving the go-ahead on 14 January, after overruling his planning inspector, only to reverse his decision in May – citing ‘apparent bias’ – after it emerged that Desmond had raised the subject at a Carlton Club fundraising dinner last November. The fact that the CIL would have at least tripled if permission had been granted one day later added fuel to the fire.

Boris Johnson is an interested party. The PM granted permission for 737 units in early 2016, during his sunset days as Mayor of London. Desmond met Johnson three times beforehand – including, it seems, at a funfair. Evaluation summaries were then secret. But a letter in the 2016 application shows the land was entered as a fixed cost, rather than the usual ‘residual value’ – income minus expenditure.

Think back to those balmy days when developers loved Boris and his deputy, Sir Eddie Lister, even more. Remember how cosy it all got? Boris was always going to say yes to Westferry.

Think, finally, of Richard Desmond. If the buccaneering entrepreneur had the wisdom and tact to stay away from Boris in 2015 – and, crucially, well away from Jenrick last November – work would probably be starting this summer on his stymied plans. The profit of £131m on the 1,524 flats is, at a guess, £50m higher than the original scheme. Desmond has paid a heavy price for his seat at Jenrick’s table.

Peter Bill is a journalist and author of Planet Property