UK: Great property clean-up - NEW PROPERTY CZARS.

UK: Great property clean-up - NEW PROPERTY CZARS. - Paul Sykes has retailers queuing up to set up shop in his Meadowhall shopping complex outside Sheffield. Albert Gubay is busy buying property around Manchester and Salford at rock bottom prices, while S

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Paul Sykes has retailers queuing up to set up shop in his Meadowhall shopping complex outside Sheffield. Albert Gubay is busy buying property around Manchester and Salford at rock bottom prices, while Stan and Peter Thomas are investing the £75 million proceeds from the sale of their pie business, "taking advantage of their liquidity" as their accountant delicately puts it.

They are, in fact, the new Czars of the British property scene. Not for them the Savoy power lunches or the non-stop dealing on mobiles from their Bentleys or Rollers. That '80s breed of London property man is now near extinction. The new species eschews publicity (by contrast the '80s kings hired expensive PR advisers to fill the City pages with their deals) and loathe London with its get-rich-quick culture based on borrowed money.

"I've never borrowed any brass from the bank", says Sykes proudly. In fact, like Gubay (who made his fortune through developing and then selling the Kwik Save chain), Sykes found that the stretched banks are now begging him to bail them out by using his undoubted track record as a developer to take some of their £45-billion worth of property assets and associated debts off their hands.

Above all, the new property men are masters of timing and geography. Sykes saw Meadowhall not so much as a derelict area "good for nowt" but as an ideal site next to the M1 motorway. Today, the giant retailers are prepared to pay six figure premiums for space in the centre - Europe's most successful retail complex. And foreign property groups are competing to buy it from Sykes and his partners.

The Thomas brothers, for their part, knew exactly when to sell their pie business. They achieved an excellent price - £75 million - from GrandMet in 1988, right at the height of the boom when Nigel Lawson was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now, many of their current developments are in their native Wales and well away from Britain's new depressed zone of London and the South East. And there are yet more emulating Sykes et al.

Jack Walker, best known for his support of Blackburn Rovers, received £330 million from the sale of his steel empire to British Steel in 1989. Today, from his Jersey tax haven, he is busy building up a new property empire - that is, when he is not trying to pull the Premier league title for the Rovers.

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