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London West End Landlord Expects Retail Crisis to Get Even Worse

Regent Street, a major shopping street in the West End of London. Shutterstock.

On some of the wealthiest streets in London’s West End, the amount of empty stores has almost doubled since the start of the pandemic. Things are about to get even worse.

That’s the view of the The Crown Estate, the landlord that owns swathes of the entertainment and shopping district and manages the British monarchy’s property portfolio. The firm slashed the value of its assets in the capital by about 700 million pounds ($978 million) in the year through March to 7.7 billion pounds, according to an earnings statement Thursday.

“Our base view at the moment is we expect it to get worse before it gets better,” Dan Labbad, Crown’s chief executive officer, said on a call with reporters. “As businesses try to get back on their feet, a lot is going to depend on footfall and physical spend versus online spend.”

Footfall on London’s Regent Street, which the firm co-owns with Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, collapsed by an average 75 percent in the year through March, crippling stores that cater to tourists and office workers. That saw vacancies across its properties in the capital soar to 8.2 percent from 4.7 percent a year earlier as lockdowns hampered retailers’ ability to pay rent.

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The Crown, which also owns malls and stores around the UK, said its overall revenue profit declined 21.9 percent to 269.3 million pounds. The gain is returned to the UK Treasury, which in turn determines a percentage to fund the royal family.

The UK’s recovery from the pandemic has sputtered, as cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus spike despite the rapid vaccine roll-out. That’s prompted the government to postpone the lifting of the remaining lockdown restrictions and to extend a ban on commercial property evictions for unpaid rent through next March, a decision that’s drawn fire from landlords.

The Crown is now reviewing its retail portfolio and could push ahead with some sales and conversion projects, Labbad said. The company also owns the UK’s seabeds which helped offset the hit to its traditional real estate as demand for offshore wind booms.

The firm’s total portfolio is valued at more than 14 billion pounds, according to the statement.

By Jack Sidders

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