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World Landlord of London’s Crippled West End Fears Winter, Second Wave

04:06  18 september  2020
04:06  18 september  2020 Source:   bloomberg.com

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(Bloomberg) -- As the glitzy stores and dining spots of London’s West End start stirring back to life, one of the area’s biggest landlords is just hoping that will last.

a store front at night: Automobiles leave light trails as they pass theaters in the West End district of London, U.K. on Monday, May 4, 2020. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the hospitality industry will be the last to see restrictions lifted, as it is the one where it is hardest to maintain social distancing. © Bloomberg Automobiles leave light trails as they pass theaters in the West End district of London, U.K. on Monday, May 4, 2020. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the hospitality industry will be the last to see restrictions lifted, as it is the one where it is hardest to maintain social distancing.

The Crown Estate, the 13.4 billion-pound ($17.3 billion) property firm that helps pay for Britain’s monarchy, has seen most of its retail and restaurant tenants in the area reopen after lockdown, but they’re still struggling to pay rent. Now the landlord, which owns swathes of the city’s most popular shopping and entertainment district, is bracing for what could be a brutal winter if a new spike in virus cases chokes off the nascent recovery.

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“At the moment, the West End is slowly filling up again,” Dan Labbad, chief executive officer of the Crown Estate, said in a media briefing. Businesses are “showing a lot of grit -- resilience is a key element. The next few months are going to be key, going into the colder weather and what happens from a health perspective.”

Previously bustling city centers have been starved of people as office workers and international tourists stay home. That’s prompted the U.K. government and large companies to urge employees to return to the office, even as the number of infections has begun to rise sharply.

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The U.K.’s already ailing retail market and the onset of the pandemic in March dented the value of the Crown Estate’s holdings by 1.2%, driven by writedowns of properties outside London, the company said in a statement Friday. It made a revenue profit of 345 million pounds in the 12 months through March that will be returned to the U.K. Treasury, which in turn will determine a percentage to fund the royal family.

That figure is likely to be significantly lower next year, as companies struggle to pay the rent and property values fall. About 68% of the rent due to the Crown Estate in March has so far been paid, and the landlord is on track to collect a similar proportion for the quarter that began in June.

“We are under no illusions about the challenge ahead,” Labbad said. “We do expect our financial performance to be significantly down in the next financial year.”

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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