IT HAS been another testing year for most industries, not least for the property sector. The main theme has been the continued lack of available debt, which has dried up development projects, while ongoing uncertainty in the global economy has shaken confidence and in turn stifled demand for space.

But it has not all been bad, particularly in London, which has continued to attract investors from around the world due to its pre-eminence as a global financial centre.

Our shortlist of property companies and management teams have showed resilience, focus and ambition, despite the recession. They have been at the forefront of exciting developments from retail to urban regeneration.

Westfield opened its 1.9m square feet Stratford City shopping centre in September, transforming London’s East End and setting the bar high for retail in the UK. The £1.45bn mall is Europe’s largest shopping centre, with more than 300 shops, 70 restaurants, a 14-screen cinema, three hotels, and the UK’s largest casino. It stands as a prestigious gateway to the new Olympic Park and is forecast to lure over 25m visitors this year.

Great Portland Estates
Great Portland Estates outperformed yet again last year, delivering one of the largest net asset value gains among its FTSE 250 peers. It was buoyed by good letting activity, £404m of disposals and a strong development pipeline. One highlight has been its purchase of the Royal Mail’s Rathbone Place site. It will seek planning permission next year.

Derwent London
Derwent London has benefited from being a pure central London player, where the market has been more resilient than elsewhere in the country. It achieved a record year for lettings in 2011 and has continued recently, with Burberry signing up for an extra 127,000 sq ft this year. The group also has a large pipeline of projects, including its recent joint venture with Grosvenor Estates to redevelop 1-5 Grosvenor Place at Hyde Park corner.

Capital & Counties
Shares in Capital and Counties have rallied 17 per cent in the year to date in anticipation that the masterplan for its £8bn Earl’s Court redevelopment scheme will be approved this summer. While CapCo still faces major hurdles, including a court case brought by local residents, the 77-acre scheme will be one of London’s biggest regeneration projects once it takes off. The firm has also made good progress transforming its Covent Garden estate.

The Anglo-French property firm has undergone a major shift in strategy this year after its decision to exit the London office market entirely to focus on retail real estate. As a result, shares have been the strongest performer of the property leaders year-to-date, rising 11.1 per cent and 25.2 per cent relative to the sector and market respectively. Hammerson’s management, led by chief executive David Atkins, deserve a round of applause.