Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
The Shard, the tallest skyscraper in western Europe, cost US$2.3 billion to build. Jason Alden / Bloomberg News
The Shard, the tallest skyscraper in western Europe, cost US$2.3 billion to build. Jason Alden / Bloomberg News

Qatari property projects have transformed London's skyline

The Shard dominates the skyline of central London, and has also dominated thinking about Qatar's involvement in the British capital's property business.

The Shard dominates the skyline of central London, and has also dominated thinking about Qatar's involvement in the British capital's property business.

The tallest skyscraper in western Europe, which cost US$2.3 billion to build and in which Qatar is the main shareholder, has been criticised on aesthetic and commercial grounds, partly because of the apparent lack of enthusiasm from big-name tenants to sign up for the building.

The 95-storey building would largely pass unnoticed in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but in London, against the city's mainly low-level skyline, it does seem incongruous.

Debate about The Shard, however, should not eclipse the progress of other Qatari projects in London, and in particular the role Qatari investors have played in the development of Canary Wharf, the financial centre built on redundant docklands to the east of the city.

You get a scale of the Canary Wharf project from a squash court-sized model of London in the HQ of Canary Wharf Group (CWG).

John Garwood, the group company secretary who has been involved in the project for 15 years, illustrates with sweeping arm movements the eastward gravitational pull of Canary Wharf, the third "hub" of the capital, after Westminster and the City of London, the capital's financial district.

"There's no doubt Canary Wharf has been a success, just look around you. And we are planning to build on that success," he says.

The project has certainly transformed this part of London. In two decades, derelict wharfs and quays have been turned into a lively financial district, with all the leisure, dining and retailing opportunities affluent financial professionals demand.

There are now 15 million square feet of office space over a site of 97 acres, and this is growing all the time as new projects are unveiled.

Some of the biggest names in finance and business are there: HSBC, Barclays, JPMorgan, Thomson Reuters and Fitch. Below ground is the busy train station, set in a mall of Dubai-esque dimensions. The daily working population of Canary Wharf was 105,000 last year, and is set to double by 2025, when there will also be a larger residential population.

Qatar has been involved in the Canary Wharf project since 2004 via the property investment vehicle Songbird.

It owns 70 per cent of the shares of CWG, while Qatar Holding, the international investment arm of the Qatar Investment Authority, is the largest single shareholder in Songbird, with 27 per cent.

Qatar also helped the project through the 2009-10 property crash with an injection of 150 million (Dh847.6m) of capital in the form of preference shares. Songbird is now debt-free, while CWG has 2bn of non-recourse debt ring-fenced from Songbird.

Ahmed Al Sayed, recently appointed chief executive of the QIA, regularly attends board meetings of CWG and is on the key remuneration committee, says Mr Garwood, who adds Mr Al Sayed is "thoughtful and intelligent".

Mr Garwood says: "The Qataris are long-term and supportive, and rather more hands-on than other shareholders."

Qatar has extensive property interests in London apart from The Shard and Canary Wharf. CWG and Qatari Diar, the QIA's property development arm, are in a joint venture to develop the area around the Shell Centre on the South Bank, in an ambitious plan to create a mixed-use commercial, retail and residential development on a 1.45 million sq ft site beside the Thames, overlooking Britain's parliament.

In the City, the QIA is a partner in the "Walkie Talkie" building currently near completion.

Qataris also have interests in the super-prime One Hyde Park development, the Chelsea Barracks project, and the soon-to-be redeveloped site of the United States embassy in Mayfair.

"We are seeing really strong demand now for residential property throughout London, with both domestic and foreign money continuing to come in, says Mr Garwood.

"In commercial property, the situation is more fragile, but confidence is coming back."

fkane@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 The Greens, villas: Q1 no change. 3BR - Dh210-250,000. 4BR - Dh210-260,000. 5BR - Dh220-300,000. Q1 2013-Q1 2014 5% rise. Pawan Singh / The National

In pictures: Where Dubai rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2014

Find out how rental prices in the prime locations in Dubai have altered during the first three months of the year and the current rates you will pay according to data provided by Asteco.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

 The cooling towers of the Temelin nuclear power plant near the Tyn nad Vltavou in Czech Republic. The country wants to continue expanding nuclear energy capacity despite cancelling a tender to build two new units. David W Cerny / Reuters

In pictures: Best business images for the week to April 17, 2014

Here are some of the best business images for the week to April 17, 2014.

 A sign points the way to an outdoor market popular with German visitors on the Polish side of the German-Polish border. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

In pictures: A decade since the European Union went east

May 1 will mark 10 years since the European Union expanded east, taking in countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states as new members. And though the border region between Germany and Poland is flourishing with trade and cultural exchange, the open border has also brought a sharp rise in crime.

 The Wind, Energy, Technology and Environment Exhibition takes place from April 14 to April 16. Above, the Dewa showroom during last year’s Wetex. Jaime Puebla / The National

April corporate and economic calendar for the UAE and overseas

From Cityscape to Wetex to stock-market holidays to nations reporting first-quarter GDP figures, here is our helpful calendar of April's business events in the UAE and internationally.

 Get the latest information on credit cards, bank accounts and loan products in the UAE. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Rates report: Latest on UAE loans, accounts and credit cards

Souqamal.com brings you the latest interest rates on banking products in the UAE.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National