Land Secs defends Alison Carnwath after its profits leap to £300m


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The Independent Online

Land Securities' new chief executive yesterday stood up for the developer's under-fire chairman Alison Carnwath, who has been savaged by investors in this year's "shareholder spring".

The City veteran has been on the wrong end of big revolts at Barclays, where she approved Barclays' chief executive Bob Diamond's controversial £17.7m payout, and took another mauling at struggling Man Group's annual meeting.

Robert Noel, the former head of the London division who took over from Francis Salway six weeks ago, said: "I can't answer questions about other businesses. But she is a great chairman for us and Land Securities is in rude health."

Results from the UK's biggest listed property firm supported his case as underlying profits rose 9 per cent to £299.4m, although the overall valuation of its portfolio eased to £10.3bn after disposals.

Demand for office space in London is lower than expected due to the worsening eurozone turmoil. But the company insists big potential tenants are merely delaying moves and Land Securities, which restarted its building programme first following the recession, is in prime position to accommodate them. "There are a whole lot of people who are gearing up to move," Mr Noel added.

Its Walkie Talkie skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street, being developed with Canary Wharf Group, will climb at the rate of one storey a week until Christmas. Insurers including Markel and Kiln have already signed up with more would-be tenants in advanced talks. Mr Noel added that interest in the tower is such that the developer is on course to let "significantly" more than 200,000 sq ft of space by the end of this year.

Outside the City, the company's £2bn development pipeline in the capital includes the Victoria Circle scheme, a vast complex of offices flats and shops near Victoria station, where demolition begins in October.