DUBAI: Middle Eastern investors are making a return to the British property market, as the UK begins to emerge from the lockdown restrictions as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to the latest data compiled by global property consultancy Knight Frank, investors from the Middle East made up 16 percent of all sales to overseas buyers in the first three months of this year, compared to less than 10 percent during the second and third quarters of 2020.
While this is the highest level of Middle Eastern interest since the pandemic began last summer, the report said the total numbers were still lower than pre-pandemic levels.
The figures showed that investors from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states ranked third after investors from Asia (18 percent) and Europe (59 percent).
“International demand for London property has been building over the last 12 months despite global travel restrictions,” Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank, said in a statement.
“It has led to frustration on the part of some prospective buyers, particularly against the backdrop of the UK’s successful vaccination programme. Once travel rules are relaxed, we expect normal service to resume, including London’s long-standing relationship with buyers from the Middle East.”
Despite lower-than-normal levels of investment from GCC investors, Knight Frank’s Global Wealth Ambassador to the Middle East, who works closely with the region’s high net worth individuals and family offices, has completed almost £90 million ($125 million) worth of sales since Britain went into lockdown.
Knight Frank’s Middle East Global Wealth Ambassador Moreas Madani said: “There is a particularly high demand from GCC investors for best-in-class new build projects in and around Mayfair.
“We are seeing steady interest from the Middle East, however, the biggest challenge remains restrictions on international travel. As this eases, and post-Ramadan, we are expecting to see more activity from the region as pent-up demand is released.”
Gabriel York, co-CEO of Lodha UK, the developer behind the No.1 Grosvenor Square project — the former US Embassy and the Canadian High Commission — said he had also seen an uptick in demand from the region.
“We have seen a steady increase in enquiries from prospective purchasers from the Middle East since the start of the new year, and we expect this to continue through the summer as London re-opens and international travel resumes,” he said.
In February, Arab News reported that Arab investors had invested £1.2 billion in London’s office real estate market since 2018, with Saudi Arabia accounting for £103 million, according to industry data.
Figures from Knight Frank found that over the last decade (2010-2020), GCC states, excluding Oman, together invested £8 billion into London’s office market, £1.2 billion of that since 2018.
Investors from the UAE have been the most active since 2018, injecting £531 million into the British capital, followed by investors from Qatar (£435 million), Kuwait (£120 million), Saudi Arabia (£103 million) and Bahrain (£8.8 million).
One of the key mega projects in the UK that has seen interest from the region has been The London Resort, a $2.6-billion, high-profile theme park development backed by Kuwaiti money.
“Generally speaking, those whom we’ve spoken to have been of Middle Eastern origin,” James Hayward, investment director at London-based investment brokerage Farrbury Capital Partners, told Arab News in December.
“We market globally … We still have healthy investment in the UK, although I’d also say those who invest from the UK have been predominantly of Middle Eastern descent. It’s very, very popular in this neck of the woods. So that’s predominantly where we’re seeing investment coming from.”
The London Resort was launched in October 2012 by the London Resort Co. Holdings, and is backed by the Kuwaiti European Holding Group.
The theme park will be the first major project of its kind in Europe since Disneyland Paris opened in 1992.
Located on a 535-acre site on Kent’s Swanscombe peninsula, 17 minutes on the train from central London, it has struck content agreements with international media partners including the BBC, ITV Studios and Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures.
The deals will see the partners’ media brands transformed into theme park rides and attractions. The first phase of the project is due to open in 2024.
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