Hugh Seaborn, CEO of the Cadogan Estate, said the situation was ‘filthy’, with footfall down around 30% and trading for retailers consequently difficult. It set up a Business Community Fund to provide support and relief to occupiers, deferring some rents and moving to turnover rents with some restaurants, or providing rent-free in exchange for lease extensions for some of the bigger brands - ‘we win and they win’. But it has been exposed to significant issues in hospitality because it owns hotels and the Cadogan Hall, the latter of which has been hit ‘very badly indeed’. Seaborn said the estate is bringing in pop-ups and ‘animating’ the area, had provided boutique hotel accommodation for NHS staff, and helped the concert hall to partially open to provide more ‘life’ to the area, along with support for the Saatchi Gallery for much the same reason.
‘People are stuck at home, so they are looking for more entertainment, more treats’, he said. But the Tier 2 guidance is ‘not helpful’, Seaborn added.
The estate is now looking to ‘winterize’ the area with umbrellas, heaters and rugs to try and keep the restaurants going, and, Seaborn said, the cooperation from councils had been ‘tremendous’, not least in helping them create a pedestrianisation scheme and ‘five minute village’.
Mark Kildea of the Howard de Walden estate, said they too had made offers of rent-free periods but also a system of ‘targeted assistance’ and ‘rewarding good behaviour’ from retailers, while others such as – he cited – Boots have simply ‘not been playing fair’. It was important to help smaller retailers through the ‘huge bump in the road’ – albeit perhaps not those which were a ‘busted flush’ beforehand. Some of the medical outfits in the area had also reported that their profits have suffered from a fall-off in overseas customers. With little in the way of public realm in the area, that has been challenging, said Kildea, but HdW has initiated a temporary pedestrianisation of Marylebone Lane, benefiting from a situation where the council’s attitude has changed ‘dramatically’. ‘Things can happen more quickly than they ever have done in the past’, Kildea said. The pandemic has also brought the HdW estate to see the importance of its own staff and how being back in the office could support the struggling businesses in the area. The next phase, however, is a real concern, Kildea added.
The Portman Estate’s chief executive Oliver Fenn Smith said it was also a case of rent deferrals for independent retail, restaurants and hotels and then conversations about moving to turnover rent. It has been working on digital marketing, has reported good rent collection in residential and is working to help office tenants with direct exposure to pandemic issues. September had started to look better, with footfall increasing and a sense of office workers returning, but the new measures represented something of a ‘slap in the face’. In South Kensington, meanwhile, South Kensington Estates’ managing director Tim Butler said that a strong residential community and localism had really helped across London, but in its case, with many residents returning to their home countries, some wealthy residents disappearing to second homes, and others leaving empty their properties bought predominantly as ‘gold bars’, that strength had been somewhat missing. The museums opening had been a boost in bringing visitors back. Moreover, Brian Bickell, chief executive of Shaftesbury, said the key message was that it would not prosper if its tenants are not prospering but that he remains optimistic that the city is in good hands. ‘I have great confidence in the recovery of central London because of people like us; the long-term owners will see this through’.
Pavilion Road pre-Covid-19