Our opportunity to demonstrate that we are serious about redefining real estate

1 Apr 2020

The built environment has always played a fundamental role in both the UK economy and society, but as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold and impacts every aspect of our lives, our role in supporting business and people across the country has arguably never been so vital.

Concierges, wardens, security staff and those carrying out essential health and safety functions are among those making sure that our tenants in residential and commercial buildings are protected and supported. They are also ensuring that buildings that have progressively emptied in part or whole will be safe and fit to return to once we are through the current lockdown.

I commend you all as exemplars of our industry’s values and commitment to our customers. The British Property Federation has been working hard both to make sure that government understands the importance of what you do and that you are protected in carrying out your work.

Our actions as an industry today will define us for the future. Last year the BPF launched its campaign Redefining Real Estate, committing the BPF and its members to make a greater contribution to the UK‘s communities and to improve trust in what we do in partnership with national and local governments.

The next few weeks and months provide us with the opportunity to demonstrate that we are serious about redefining real estate and we must step up, unite and demonstrate meaningful commitment to support our customers through these unprecedented times.

High streets at the sharp end

The high street continues to be at the sharp end of the pandemic, with retail, leisure and hospitality businesses the first to be ordered to close – and our members were proactive in offering dialogue and support to any tenant who, through no fault of their own but due to coronavirus, was in temporary financial distress.

It was disappointing – to say the least – that the government’s subsequent announcement of a three-month moratorium on evictions in the case of non-payment of rent was widely and wrongly interpreted as a licence not to pay rent, whatever the ability of tenants to meet their liabilities.

That has been borne out by the experience of property owners over the past few days and by the very public statements by some large retail chains that they are walking away not only from their rent liabilities but from any conversation with their landlords.

Let me be clear – the £2.5bn retail rent bill due on 25 March can’t simply be absorbed by property owners. Property owners are similarly facing the impacts of coronavirus on their own businesses and they must meet their obligations to lenders, and to the 45m savers and pensioners whose money is invested in commercial property.

Wider economic ramifications

The devastating impact of coronavirus is already spreading far and wide across all parts of the UK economy and it is clear that we are in it for the long haul. It is now critical that, after the past couple of weeks of firefighting, the government starts to adopt more long-term thinking. The built environment underpins the UK economy and safe, fully operational buildings will be key to swift recovery once we are all able to return to work and resume our social lives.

That’s why we welcome the government’s recognition that it now needs to take measures to support property owners and we will be working with it to make sure that leads to practical further action.

In the meantime, we must all do everything we can to play our part in bearing down on the impact of coronavirus and I hope you all stay safe and healthy.

By Melanie Leech, Chief Executive, British Property Federation