The Great Estates: Who are London's 10 largest land owners by size?

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We all know that some of London’s most iconically “British” locations are mostly owned by Qatar, including Harrods, most of the Shard and Claridges. But the Qatar Investment Authority, the state’s sovereign wealth fund actually owns a mind-boggling 22,798,973ft2 in the capital, considerably more than the Crown Estate.

The number-one spot shows that post-Brexit our most valuable commercial property investors will continue to come from outside the EU. 

Mark Bruno, UK MD of Datscha, the prop tech platform which reveals the most comprehensive data on the ultimate owners of UK commercial property says, “Of London’s 10 top commercial property owners, both in size and rateable value, the only other countries which own sizeable chunks of the capital are the governments of Qatar and Kuwait. No European country is even listed among London’s top 20 occupiers. If Brexit will weaken the Pound (albeit temporarily), as it has, the UK remains a clear proposition for countries and companies to have a stakehold within”.

The streets of London might be paved with gold but who actually owns them?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Pret a Manger owned more space in London than anyone else but we’ve unearthed the top ten (in descending order) freehold landowners (according to square footage) in the capital. And, guess what, there’s not a Duke of Westminster property in sight. What ho! 

10. Network Rail Limited (4,814,586ft2)

Probably the landowner whose predecessors were most responsible for the capital’s growth, now Network Rail spends its time carrying people who can’t afford to live there any more away from it. Network Rail owns and operates the majority of Britain’s rail infrastructure including 20,000 miles of track and its property portfolio includes a number of sites unconnected to the railways which it rents out to commercial occupiers, as well as garden and amenity land, private residential parking spaces and some rights of access. 

9.  Legal & General Group (6,494,798ft2)

Legal & General’s eight-storey, 180,000ft2 London headquarters on Coleman Street is one of the city’s most distinctive office buildings. But it’s testament to the complex nature of the London property market that they merely lease the land, despite LGP – a wholly-owned subsidiary of Legal & General Investment Management – being one of the largest institutional property fund managers in the UK.

8.  BNP Paribas (6,845,758ft2)

The third largest bank in the world and one of Europe’s leading commercial property developers is thought to be holding titles in trusts for its wealthy international client base.

7.  Segro Plc (7034678ft2)

Industrial warehouse developer Segro was founded in 1920 as The Slough Trading Company Ltd, all the vehicles returned from WWI that were surplus to government requirements. It changed its name to Segro in 2007, acquiring Brixton plc and is now Europe’s largest industrial property company. Last year its Greenford Park site was home to the biggest set ever built for British television (BBC1 drama Dickensian).

6. The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty In Right of her Crown (Crown Estate) (7,280,719ft2)

In feudal times you could forfeit your own freehold for treason or felony but these days it’s just swans Her Maj can swipe from under your nose with impunity. But the Crown Estates owns 7,280,719ftsq in London, including all of Regent Street and much of St James’s. The Queen privately owns two properties, Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House. 

5.  Government of the United Kingdom (8,208039ft2)

Among the government’s expansive London portfolio is one of the world’s most famous addresses, No 10 Downing Street. The building

started out as Number 5 and was presented by King George II to Sir Robert Walpole. Sir Samuel Pepys described the street’s builder, Sir George Downing, as “a perfidious rogue”. Sir Winston Churchill described it as “shaky and lightly built”. It was rebuilt in the 1960s. 

4.  Aviva Plc (8,235,328ft2)

Aviva is the world’s fifth largest insurance group and Aviva Investors is one of Europe’s largest property investment managers, at the helm of circa £23bn of real estate funds. That’s one hell of an insurance claim. 

3.  Transport for London (14,642,252ft2)

Earlier this year TfL announced it would work with 13 property partners to make money from its substantial land assets in the capital with a plan to develop more than 50 sites over the next decade. 

2.  The Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London (15,533,688ft2)

The City of London Corporation is clinging on for dear life to its London spread, which includes 12,000 acres of green space –including Hampstead Heath and Highgate Wood – and Tower Bridge. 

1. The Government of Qatar (22,798,973ft2)

We all know that some of London’s most iconically “British” locations are mostly owned by Qatar, including Harrods, most of the Shard and Claridges. But the Qatar Investment Authority, the state’s sovereign wealth fund actually owns a mind-boggling 22,798,973ft2 in the capital, considerably more than the Crown Estate.

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