Picture a church. If you’re thinking of steeples and stained glass, you’re behind the times. Today places of worship are just as likely to look like cinemas, bingo halls, state-of-the-art conference centres or even industrial sheds. In this special report for Estates Gazette, I investigated how changing patterns of worship are altering the property landscape, as Britain’s older religions shed buildings that are increasingly surplus to requirements while newer ones struggle to find venues large enough to house their booming congregations. As well as a fascinating area for social historians and psychogeographers, religious property is increasingly big business. I spoke to property professionals involved in a vast range of deals, from convents and cathedrals to Methodist halls, mosques and megachurches, as well as the man responsible for London’s 36 (but probably falling) Quaker meeting houses and the head of the London Kabbalah centre, where a major extension is on the cards.
And for a different take on religious property, I also interviewed the Church of England’s Church Commissioners about how they manage an investment fund that is on very much the opposite trajectory to its congregation numbers, growing almost 16% during 2013.
It looks like the construction industry is finally out of recession – and facing a whole set of not-so-new issues. I interviewed Tony Giddings of developer Argent for Building about his £1bn pipeline at King’s Cross and elsewhere, and whether he’s concerned about rising costs and finding firms to build it all in a suddenly booming market.
Whatever the result of the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September, the balance of power between north and south Britain is undoubtedly moving in only one direction. From April 2015, Scotland will be able to set its own taxes and borrow up to £2.2bn to fund capital projects, as the Scotland Act 2012 transfers considerable fiscal power from Westminster to Holyrood. Even if Scots vote no to full independence, there’s almost certain to be further devolution, with the main UK political parties all publicly committed to greater Scottish autonomy. But how much more control over its own destiny will an independent, or more independent, Scotland actually have? I spoke to Scots on both sides of the debate to write this piece for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, about the potential impact on property and the balance of power across the UK. They pointed out that formal power and real economic power are very different things, that the Scottish government has never exercised its existing power to raise or lower income tax, and that while Scots like the idea of Scandinavian-style public services, they would be much less keen to pay the taxes to fund it.