Walkie Talkie sale: Why a foreign buyer for 20 Fenchurch Street would be no bad thing

Emma Haslett
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In the mist: A sale of the Walkie Talkie to foreign owners should be seen as a sign of success (Source: Getty)
ew eyebrows were raised when it emerged a 50 per cent stake in 20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie, may be about to go up for sale.

The news came a few weeks after its neighbour, the Cheesegrater, was sold for £1.15bn, so you can forgive the Walkie Talkie’s owners for asking around.

Some reports suggested the stake in the 35-storey building, a former winner of the coveted Carbuncle Cup, may be snapped up by the China Investment Corporation (CIC), which already owns 11.6 per cent of it (about 4.3 floors, incidentally).

If the deal comes to pass, the Walkie Talkie will become the second of London’s iconic skyscrapers to be sold to a Chinese investor this year - for the new owner of the Cheesegrater is Chinese-owned property giant CC Land.

What is sad is if that deal happens it will, without doubt, prompt the usual round of hand-wringing about the owners of UK assets selling the farm. It is true many of the capital’s most recognisable assets, from the Ritz and Harrods, are foreign-owned.

But allowing nationalistic agendas to dictate how we do business is missing the point. Even the Prime Minister has relaxed her views on foreign ownership since she entered office. Having suggested, just after she came into office last summer, that Downing Street will wade into major foreign takeovers to determine whether they are in the national interest, at the Conservative Party conference in October MP George Freeman said Theresa May had changed her tune: she was now “reasonably relaxed” about foreign ownership.

“The issue isn’t who owns it. The issue is what is their commitment to the UK,” he added.

Perhaps May had realised that, at a time when commentators are falling over themselves to predict the end of the UK economy as we know it, the fact outsiders are still sniffing around British trophy assets is a vote of confidence.

When it comes to safe havens, London assets, and residential property in particular, is regularly mentioned in the same breath as gold. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone to say the same of many of the other cities trying to muscle in on London’s reputation post-Brexit.

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