Business craves certainty in EU talks, warns Land Securities chief
THE negotiations around the UK’s departure from the European Union are progressing too slowly for business, resulting in unnecessary uncertainty, the boss of property company Land Securities has said.
Rob Noel said that negotiations were “not moving as quickly as business would like”. He added: “All business craves is certainty, and to some extent it doesn’t matter what the economic conditions are as long as they know the trading landscape.”
His comments came as a separate survey from the Institute of Directors found that 46pc of businesses feel unable to plan ahead at the moment in order to adapt their business models or supply chains ahead of quitting the EU.
Land Securities had a solid first half, with revenue profits, its preferred measure, up 5pc to £203m in the six months to Sept 30. It was boosted by a huge office letting to Deutsche Bank, as well as the opening of a new Westgate shopping centre in Oxford.
Leasing activity across its portfolio was at its highest level since the global financial crisis, it said, despite concerns that firms would put property decisions on hold while the UK’s relationship with the EU remains unclear. Its dividend was 19.7p in the six-month period, 10.1pc higher than the same time last year.
During the period it also sold 20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie, to Hong Kong investor Lee Kum Kee for £1.28bn. Land Securities had a 50pc stake in the building, so returned £475m to shareholders.
But Mr Noel said his main aim was to lower risk by reducing debt and making sure the buildings the firm owns are able to withstand a downturn in the economy. The company only sold the Walkie Talkie because it had received an offer it “couldn’t turn down”, he added. “We don’t think it’s the right time to push the button on speculative development, and we don’t think it’s the right time to buy assets,” he said. “
Shares closed down 2.1pc at 921p. Meanwhile, the IoD survey also found that UK business leaders would prefer to stick with EU rules on goods and services in order to preserve their current trading relationships.
In a survey of more than 900 IoD members, 51pc of businesses wanted to keep the current levels of access to the single market, in order to maintain continuity with their current business plans.