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Has Brexit left Britain's developers hedging their bets?

It has been over nine months since the EU referendum and, while the political agenda has been packed with more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, formal negotiations are still to begin.

However, while campaigning for a snap election no-one anticipated is in full swing, the commercial world has begun to show signs it is putting into practice plans to weather the Brexit storm. 

Two news items today in particular showed that when it comes to investment, developers are hovering over the pause button until the political and economic picture clears.

First, Deloitte’s latest Crane Survey showed that development activity in London had dipped in the past six months for the first time in three years, posting a 6 per cent drop from 14.8m sq ft of office space under construction in November to 13.9m sq ft in the latest figures.

Meanwhile, British Land showed signs it is hedging against any potential slowdown in UK plc by cutting its exposure to speculative development.

And, taking out the value of asset disposals such as the Cheesegrater from its results, British Land’s annual statutory pre-tax profit took a nose dive of 85 per cent, falling from £1.3bn to £195m. 

British Land stated that, in a more uncertain environment, it has “moderated” its speculative development exposure to only 4 per cent of its portfolio.

Stating that “we expect Brexit-related headwinds to impact our occupational market” leaves no doubt that British Land is braced to weather the slowdown if UK-EU negotiations go awry.

British Land’s results painted a similar picture to that of fellow property company Grosvenor, which last month posted a slump of 74 per cent in pre-tax profit as the group braced itself for a “market correction”.

Grosvenor and British Land are among the bigger beasts of the development world (Grosvenor has a £6bn development pipeline alone), and a hedging of their future development pipeline could have a knock-on effect for the wider construction industry.

Yet despite signs of a battening down of the development hatches, both British Land and Deloitte were bullish over London’s long-term economic prospects; with the former saying the capital can ‘weather the storm’ of Brexit, and the latter stating that office activity is due to rebound in 2018, there is no doubt that the impact of the referendum is now being played out in boardrooms of the UK’s construction clients.

The question on many contractors lips may be: How long will the blip last?

Lib Dems on housing: Go big or go home

With two of the three main parties now publishing their manifestos, housing has once again come to the fore.

And, as expected the number of homes each party is pledging to build has edged higher than the previous elections.

Yesterday Labour promised to build a million homes across the lifecycle of the next parliament and planned to be building a minimum of 100,000 council or housing association homes per year by the end.

Today the Lib Dems go a step further, with a bold plan to deliver 300,000 homes per year by 2022. 

All eyes will be on how the Tories put meat on the bones of its own house-building promises when its manifesto is published tomorrow.

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