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Investors seek out safe havens across UK

Property in the United Kingdom attracted buyers at the Cityscape Abu Dhabi property show yesterday as investors seek out safe havens for their cash.

Property in the United Kingdom attracted buyers at the Cityscape Abu Dhabi property show yesterday as investors seek out safe havens for their cash.

Exhibitors reported a broadening interest from UAE investors outside the traditional locations of Mayfair and Belgravia to emerging locations in London and elsewhere in the country as property prices in the capital rose to pre-2007 peak levels.

The Irish property company Ballymore, which was exhibiting its Embassy Gardens project in Vauxhall, South London reported "in the region of a couple of hundred registrations" at the event.

"Gulf investors will now look outside of the prime areas at places like Canary Wharf which is a trend we have noticed a lot more since the London Olympics," said Iseeb Rehman, the chief executive of the property broker Sherwoods. "London is as safe as you're going to get if you're buying off-plan. It's not like buying off plan in the UAE and people understand that."

The broker Chesterton said it had sold six apartments at St George's Battersea Reach scheme in South London and two more in other Berkeley Group projects in the capital - an improvement on its sales at the same event last year.

"We have seen the average value of the units we sell in the Middle East fall from 1.6 million [Dh8.9m] to 1.2 million over the past three years as people from the Middle East start to invest in less prime areas," Samuel Warren, the managing director for international residential developments at Chesterton told The National.

Companies selling undeveloped plots of greenfield land in the UK at the exhibition also reported strong interest from investors.

David Pollendine, the managing director of Bedfordshire-based Wedgewood Builders and Developers was exhibiting greenfield plots of land in a 4.5 acre field near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. He said his company had received "lots of interest" in undeveloped plots of around 1,300 square feet which it was selling for about 20,000 each.

Herald Land, which was also exhibiting greenfield land plots for between 8,000 and 15,000 in various counties around the UK among its investments, was unwilling to give sales information regarding Cityscape Abu Dhabi. However, the managing director Bob Clarke said that sales had been "better than other exhibitions outside the GCC".

Greenfield land sales had recently caused much controversy in the UK, where a number of companies have been closed down by the government for selling off protected plots to investors and fraudulently suggesting that the sites could be redeveloped as housing when they could not. In 2011 the number of companies wound down by the Insolvency Service rose to 30 from 15 in 2009.

Both exhibitors interviewed by The National were quick to point out that they made it clear to investors that the land they sold had no planning consent and therefore could not be developed without a change of planning use.

"Lots of greenfield land is released on a regular basis," Mr Clarke said. "What we are doing is not illegal and it is not fraudulent. People understand that UK land is a safe investment. You get a title deed. You own a bit of England and can bequeath that to your successors."

lbarnard@thenational.ae

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