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London West End Landlord Sees Signs of Life After Grim Year

London's Covent Garden Market, normally crowded with tourists and shoppers, was deserted on April 4. Getty Images.

There are signs of life in London’s locked down West End.

Interest in renting out the district’s growing number of vacant stores and bars is growing, Shaftesbury Plc, the owner of swathes of London’s Soho, Covent Garden and Chinatown said in a trading update Thursday. While the company’s vacancy rate had edged up to 10.8 percent by the end of January, more than a quarter of that space is now close to being filled.

“The relaxation of pandemic restrictions will herald the revival of the West End’s economy in the months ahead,” Shaftesbury chief executive officer Brian Bickell said in the statement. The area should see “a gradual return of local and domestic footfall and the reopening of hospitality businesses, shops and its world-renowned cultural and leisure attractions.”

London’s retail, dining and tourist hotspots have been hardest hit by the UK’s repeated severe lockdowns over the past year, as international travel was halted and millions of office workers stopped commuting. It’s been particularly tough for the smaller independent stores and restaurants in which Shaftesbury specialises.

Still, the struggle is by no means over for the landlord or its business tenants. Shaftesbury collected just 45 percent of rent due for the quarter through the end of December and has so far brought in just 36 percent of January’s total. The collapse in rent collections has prompted the company to secure covenant waivers with its lenders.

By Jack Sidders.

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