A look at the hottest property work in London and one of the leading property practices in the City.
Whatever angle you survey property from, Berwin Leighton Paisner's a good place to be. The firm's 61-partner commercial real estate team is the largest of its kind in London, and is top-ranked in Chambers UK for its performance in the real estate litigation, big-ticket real estate, retail and planning spheres. The team also receives nods for its social housing, real estate finance and construction work. Here's more on how BLP's clients fit into the bigger picture of the London property scene.
Scraping the sky
The booming London property market is such that 'big-ticket' is an understatement when describing some of BLP's highest-profile deals, most of which involve huge corporations like Google taking out leases on commercial property. You might think your rent's too high, but insurance big'un Markel signed up to pay £65 per square foot of office space – a whopping £3.5 million a year – for its digs in the Walkie Talkie building, courtesy of BLP and the work it's been doing with the Canary Wharf Group and Land Securities. BLP has continued to work with the latter, filling the Walkie Talkie's floors with a variety of law firms and insurance companies, as well as leasing out the tower's 'Sky Garden' restaurant facilities.
BLP also works with global property developer Oxford Properties, which built London's Leadenhall Building, nicknamed the 'Cheesegrater' for its wedge-shaped, metal-framed exterior. High-end commercial property in the capital is a crucial investment for countries like asset-hungry China, as well Singapore: BLP recently acted for the UOL Group – one of Asia's largest property companies – as it made its first foray into the London market by snapping up Heron Plaza for a tidy £97 million. The company will be erecting a 43-storey hotel, retail and residential complex next to the Heron Tower. The London market has also been attracting private investors from less stable (and less savoury) regions like Russia and the Middle East.
One of the biggest developments in London is the mixed-use development of the Shell Centre on the South Bank. BLP advised the Canary Wharf Group and Qatar Diar on their joint venture to develop 798 homes, 76,000 square metres of office space, 6,000 square metres of retail and 2,500 of leisure space. This included advice on planning, forward funding agreements, and strategic construction procurement.
BLP represents private equity super-firms Carlyle and Blackstone, both of which are canny investors in the UK market. Private equity firms are traditionally known for buying struggling businesses, investing in them enough to get them back on their feet, then putting them back on the market to make a huge profit. Blackstone bought 50% of office and retail development Broadgate back in 2009 for £77 million, taking advantage of previous site owner British Land's recessionary woes. Four years later, Blackstone sold the investment on for more than £1.7 billion. The improved market these days means there are fewer bargains to be scored, so private equity investors are increasingly setting their sights on new real estate targets – in the case of Blackstone, industrial property in the Midlands and North of England.
They might not have the headline-grabbing glitz of commercial real estate deals, but BLP's work on social housing transactions can involve equally dizzying sums. The firm regularly works with local authorities and the Homes and Communities Agency, and recently advised housebuilding company Berkeley on the £1 billion, 4,600-home Woodberry Down redevelopment in Hackney. The current buzz-phrases in social housing are 'mixed-use developments' and 'urban regeneration', with contracts up for grabs to developers willing to blend social housing, luxury flats, retail spaces and leisure facilities into one handy package. Such deals are not without consequences, though: since its redevelopment Woodberry Down has been criticised for increasing living costs for existing social housing residents. As it happens, more than 55% of the first phase flats were sold to overseas investors, a move that artificially inflated property prices in the area. One flat in Woodberry's private block went for a staggering one million pounds.
As London's economy continues to grow and its property prices keep on going up, London real estate is seen as a safe-as-houses investment in an increasingly volatile global economy. The sums exchanged at the top end of the capital's property market look set to continue rise, with transactions becoming more and more complex and sophisticated.
A stint in one of BLP's real estate seats is miles away from the experience of a trainee in residential conveyancing at a high-street firm, and for trainees with their eye on corporate, it could prove streets ahead too.