Emir: real estate in London may get sick, but it doesn’t die

Three good stories in the FT: The first is the £750m sale of about half of Westfield’s Stratford City shopping centre, to a fund managed by Henderson: the second being confirmation that British Land is to build the “Cheesegrater” tower.How polite of BL’s Chris Grigg to say “after you” to Francis Salway, who last week confirmed LandSecs start of the Walkie-Talkie. But the best tale lies in the sub-text of an interview with the Emir of Qatar, ahead of a visit to Britain.

The interview is conducted in that unsatisfactory Q&A fashion, which always indicates a great deal of negotiation and resultant spin control. The opening question is positively sycophantic. In a tell-me-your-wonderfulness tone the Emir is asked “what makes you and your policies special.” But the buttering up is soon over. There follows a series of pointed questions on political issues and women’s rights, many of which the Emir twists away from.

But he does make some interesting points on bricks and mortar.The best remark being a quip that pretty much sums up why the investment market is booming in the capital.”Becuase real estate in London may get sick but it doesn’t die.” He almost admits feeling sick about losing money on Chelsea Barracks: “Well, unfortunately this is normal; such a thing could happen. But the main thing is we are defending our reputation:” At a cost of £250m perhaps?

Last week the Qatari Investment Authority admitted to the Standard that it is thinking of building a hotel on top of Harrods. Today the Emir reveals he is to set up his own investment fund, separate from the QIA and he wants to buy Christie’s auction house. So, will any deals be announced when he comes to London next week? “We are searching for good opportunities. And London, as I told you, real estate is the best.” Is that a yes?

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