No, sadly I cannot predict the future.
When I asked in last week’s leader ‘Who’s next on the shopping list after Intu?’, I did not suspect for a second that we would have an answer just days later in Unibail-Rodamco’s proposed £18.5bn takeover of Westfield to create an even bigger mega-mall beastie than Hammerson-Intu. Unlike its predecessor, I don’t think anyone saw that one coming.
What other surprises can we expect as the year draws to a close? Rumours are swirling that another big deal is in the offing, in the London office sector. Selfishly, I urge you to hold off. Please, no more big announcements before the year is out! You are making our lives difficult here at Property Week Towers.
This is our last issue of the year and tradition dictates that we take stock of everything that has happened in the previous 12 months in our annual review. It is bad enough that we have had to keep rewriting the copy and crowbarring more stuff in, but now we have gone to press.
I fear my pleas will fall on deaf ears. Some agents are predicting an even bigger flurry of activity than usual in the final couple of weeks of the year, bringing to a close what has been an unexpectedly busy 2017.
We gave our review the headline ‘Dancing in the dark’ (in homage to Bruce Springsteen NOT Ed Sheeran and Beyonce’s song ‘Perfect’ just to be clear) because we thought it summed up perfectly the industry’s determination to keep going despite the largely Brexit-related lack of political or economic visibility.
And keep going it has. Indeed, some sectors – notably industrial and the PRS – have motored ahead this year. Inevitably, there are other sectors that have struggled – retail being the obvious one. But the part of the market that many feared would be hardest hit by Brexit has actually had a pretty good showing this year.
Fears of a Brexodus remain just that: fears. Overseas investors have continued to snap up trophy buildings in London, notably the Cheesegrater and Walkie-Talkie, and on the occupier front, WeWork has dominated take-up in London and is now eyeing up the regions. The UK is clearly still seen as a relative safe haven for overseas buyers and occupiers and, of course, it is also relatively cheap thanks to the fall in the value of the pound.
The Brexit process was undoubtedly hindered by Theresa May’s extraordinarily misguided decision to call a snap general election in June, but it was not the election that for most of us will be remembered as the pivotal event of 2017. The event that will linger longest in the memory is the Grenfell tragedy, which rightly prompted much soul-searching over the health and safety of social housing – and our attitudes towards the people living in it – and will hopefully lead to genuine and lasting change in the way we deliver such housing.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal highlighted another area in which attitudes urgently need to change. It is telling that my leader comment on the scale of the problem in property was the most read leader of the year – and heartening that so many people echoed the calls for action.
The eternal optimist that I am, I’d like to think those calls will be heeded. In the meantime, it just remains for me to say thank you for your continued support in 2017 and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.