New trusts will boost property investment

The Chancellor gave a massive boost yesterday to Britain's property sector, saying the Government would consult the industry about introducing trusts that offer big tax breaks to people who invest in real estate companies.

In a widely welcomed move, Gordon Brown announced that he would consult on the setting up of such trusts in the UK, after similar schemes in the United States and France have breathed life back into their property sectors. The Treasury further pleased the property industry by making it clear that so-called real estate investment trusts (Reits) would apply to commercial and residential property.

The Treasury unveiled the consultation after Kate Barker, the Bank of England economist commissioned to investigate Britain's shortage of residential properties, raised the possibility of introducing Reits to boostinvestment in housing development. Ms Barker said: "Only 1 per cent of institutional investment in property is in the residential area. A tax-transparent vehicle could encourage more investment."

In his Budget this year, Mr Brown made clear that he wanted to boost the amount of housing available to individuals, whether to rent or buy. The property industry has argued that investment in commercial developments should be given tax breaks as a way of narrowing the share price discount most companies in the sector trade at compared to their net asset value.

The industry pointed out to the Treasury that such a move might halt the number of property companies being taken private and their assets being sold off.

Analysts expect the £18bn market capitalisation of the UK listed property sector to double over the next 10 years if Reits are introduced, reversing a trend that has seen it shrink about 60 per cent in the past 10 years.

The details of how the British version of Reits will work have yet to be worked out, with legislation likely in 2005. In other countries they work by offsetting dividend income against profits, provided they distribute most of their income to shareholders.

"It's brilliant and could lead to a massive tax change," said Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation.

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