London property firms Shaftesbury and Capital & Counties to merge

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The West End landlords Shaftesbury and Capital & Counties have agreed to merge, creating a property company with a combined portfolio value of £5bn in the heart of London.

It will be called Shaftesbury Capital, and own swaths of London’s West End, including Covent Garden, Carnaby Street, Chinatown and Soho. Shaftesbury shareholders will own 53% of the group while Capital & Counties (Capco) investors will own 43%.

Shaftesbury has hailed the return of West End crowds in recent months and expects a further rise in visitors and spending in central London following the recent opening of the Elizabeth line, formerly known as Crossrail. It swung back to profit in the six months to March after the value of its 16-acre property portfolio was boosted by rising rents, and its vacancy rate fell below 5%.

Shaftesbury has so far recovered more than a third of the 27% slump in value suffered during the 18 months to 31 March 2021, when Covid lockdowns turned the West End into a ghost town.

Capco owns 380 lettable units at Covent Garden across 1 million sq ft of space, which is home to brands such as Apple, Chanel and Tom Ford, with future openings form Peloton and the women’s clothing brand Reformation.

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The group’s combined £5bn portfolio will comprise 670 mainly freehold buildings with 2.9m sq ft of lettable space, containing 2,000 shops, offices and flats. Retail will make up 35% of the portfolio value, hospitality and leisure 34%, offices 17% and residential 14%.

The new company will be led by the Capco boss, Ian Hawksworth, as chief executive and its chief financial officer, Situl Jobanputra, will have the same role at the bigger group Shaftesbury’s chairman, Jonathan Nicholls, will chair it and its finance chief, Chris Ward, becomes chief operating officer.

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Shaftesbury’s chief executive, Brian Bickell, 67, has decided to retire when the deal – a reverse takeover by Capco of Shaftesbury – is completed, after 36 years at the West End landlord, including 11 years as CEO. The Capco chairman will also retire.

Norges Bank, which owns 25% of Shaftesbury and 14% of Capo, has given its backing to the deal. It is expected to be completed in autumn once shareholders have voted on it. Capco holds a 25% stake in Shaftesbury.

The deal is set to generate £12m of cost savings a year by the second full year following completion.

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