London landlord Shaftesbury said this morning that demand for retail space had been resilient over the crucial Christmas trading period, with consumers continuing to visit bars and restaurants in the firm’s West End portfolio during the festive season.
The FTSE 250 group, which is bracing itself for a shareholder showdown at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) this morning, said that it had seen "good leasing activity" since the beginning of October last year, with occupancy “remaining high” in recent months.
Shaftesbury also said delays to the Elizabeth Line had been "disappointing", echoing the frustration among fellow West End property giants hoping to see a rise in footfall as a result of the Crossrail project.
However, the group added that the delay was "not having any noticeable impact on appetite for space in our locations".
Chief executive Brian Bickell said: "During the important trading season leading up to and including the Christmas and the New Year holidays, footfall in our locations has been robust and our occupiers generally reported growth in turnover compared with the same period in 2017. In contrast to reports of subdued leisure spending nationally, our restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars were particularly busy throughout the festive period."
The news comes ahead of the firm’s AGM this morning, which has attracted attention after Shaftesbury’s largest shareholder Samual Tak Lee has said he plans to vote against resolutions to reappoint the board.
Lee has accused Shaftesbury, which owns larges parts of the West End including swathes of Carnaby Street and Chinatown, of being "motivated by a desire to dilute his interest" following a fundraising in December 2017, but the landlord has refuted the claims, saying that the placing was needed to fund acquisitions.
The remarks are the latest twist in a long battle between Lee and other shareholders in Shaftesbury, which has been funding acquisitions through raising equity in share issues rather than by acquiring more debt.
Speculation of a takeover tussle between Lee and Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which owns more than 23 per cent of the group, has also mounted, with both investors upping their stake in the firm over recent months.