Church Commissioners will be praying for retail recovery

Linda J. Dodson

On Friday, the Metrocentre’s owner Intu failed to agree payment waivers with its lenders, plunging it into a deep crisis.

It leaves the church, which still owns 10pc of the Metrocentre, facing potential losses, and throws a spotlight on the rest of its commercial property holdings.

With assets stretching from Gateshead down to the Royal Lancaster Hotel in central London and the Catford Island Retail Park in the capital’s suburbs, the portfolio is a key part of the Church Commissioners’ £8.7bn investment fund used to pay clergy’s pensions for service pre-1998, and fund mission activities.

The pandemic has taken its toll. Restaurants and cafés in Connaught Village, the Commissioners’ upmarket retail quarter tucked away to the north of Hyde Park, have been ordered to shut; the Royal Lancaster, which is owned by the Thai businessman Khun Jatuporn Sihanatkathakul, has closed temporarily for the first time in decades; and retail parks have also suffered falling visitor numbers.

The Commissioners have yet to release figures covering the pandemic, but other central London landlords offer a stark example of what could be in store. Shaftesbury, which owns swathes of the West End near to Hyde Park, saw the value of its property portfolio fall by 7.9pc during the six months to the end of March.

“Central London is challenging,” says Mat Oakley, head of commercial property research at Savills, the estate agent. “It has a lower proportion of shops classed as ‘essential’, and about a third of retail spend in central London comes from tourism.”

Like other landlords, the Commissioners have been negotiating rent deferrals with tenants – but are aware that pensions also need paying. In its Hyde Park Estate, home to Connaught Village, commercial and residential tenants were offered a 12-week rent holiday at the start of the lockdown.

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