Property Investment, development and management

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Introduction

As a strategic objective for 2021/22, the Executive Team of Peer Group plc agreed to prepare an ESG Policy that is suitable and proportionate to our business. The purpose of adopting an ESG Policy is to set out the standards that Peer Group will follow and to guide decision making. The likely audience for our ESG Policy will include tenants, our banks, our shareholders and our staff.

Peer Group is a privately owned UK Property Company, effectively founded by Mr Martin Birrane in 1983 and now controlled by his family. As a private property company, enhancement of shareholder value and growth of profits is at the heart of what we do. This objective however is not in conflict with ESG objectives.

Adoption of appropriate ESG policies is necessary to:

  • safeguard and develop our property portfolios
  • recruit and retain talented staff
  • ensure transparency of executive decision making for the benefit of shareholders

Environmental

The assessment of how a company interacts with its environment is one of the three key factors in understanding ESG risks and opportunities. This is the ‘E’ in ESG. This can include energy use, waste creation, recycling, compliance with government regulation (eg EPC’s). In the context of a Property Company like Peer Group it focuses on the energy efficiency of our buildings and the stated target of the UK Government to achieve Net Zero by 2050. A recent report by UCL (sponsored by HSBC) cited that “Buildings are a major contributor to climate change and in the UK they are responsible for 23% of all carbon emissions.” Although climate change has been on the political agenda for 20 years or more, it is now gaining a momentum which will force a level of change on building owners and occupiers over the next 5 to 10 years that will make the changes of the previous 20 years pale into insignificance. Historically, building owners have been reluctant to invest in measures that save energy and money for tenants and tenants have been unwilling to invest when they may not stay in occupation long enough to reap the rewards.

Large occupiers are now setting themselves targets of Net Zero and they will be looking at their commercial space to play its part in achieving this objective. These targets will cascade down to smaller companies who will need to respond to legislative changes and expectations from investors and employees to ensure that they also target Net Zero.

The legislative framework imposed on building owners is getting stricter. There are a few exceptions but since April 2018 it is no longer lawful to let a commercial building with an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating of F or G. It is anticipated that the minimum standard required by 2025 will be a “D” rating, by 2027 it will be a “C” rating and by 2030 the minimum required rating will be a “B” rating. This requirement must be viewed against a backdrop of ever tightening standards (last years “C” might next year be a “D”). It is likely also that there will be a stricter regime imposed upon assessors that will reduce the current anomalies where one assessor might assess a building as a “C” while another might assess the same building as a “B”. Logic suggests that there will be a presumption that the more lenient assessments are the ones to be weeded out.

As a minimum Peer Group intends to achieve compliance with the legislative framework (such as EPCs and BREEAM ratings) to ensure we can continue to let our buildings and that there will be demand from tenants to occupy them. This may require being ahead of the curve initially by taking advantage of lease expiries or periods of vacancy to invest in our buildings as the requirements will continue to get tougher over the next decade. Peer Group will consider going further and exceeding these requirements where there is financial value in doing this. We must assess new acquisitions carefully to ensure that compliance is achievable and properly priced into the asset purchase.

Peer Group’s customers are our tenants. We have an objective to be a “landlord of choice” (especially in Southwark where we are significant landowners). We want to retain the ability to access competitive debt funding from banks. To achieve these objectives we must invest in our portfolio and future proof our assets so that they remain attractive to occupiers and compliant with current and future legislation.

Property Companies that do not react to the changing environment will lose out as they may end up owning what have been termed “stranded assets” (i.e assets that are non-compliant and without any occupational or investor demand).

There is no room for complacency but at Peer Group we are being proactive to meet the challenges of Net Zero. We are compliant with regard to the current standards for EPC’s. We have recently employed a Compliance and Sustainability Manager who will work with our Property Managers to develop a strategy to ensure ongoing improvement and compliance with future standards. As a Board, we must face up to the extra financial investment that will be required to remain compliant and to meet ever increasing standards demanded by our tenants and legislation. By achieving compliance with the increasing EPC and BREEAM requirements we will ensure that we move in the right direction and increase the energy efficiency of our buildings. However it is likely that a gap will remain between this level and achieving Net Zero.

At a property level the following are good examples of how we are investing for the future:

  • Redevelopment of 150 Borough High Street to achieve a BREEAM rating of “Very Good”. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is a certification standard that demonstrates a sustainable environmental approach to building. A target has been set for Project Team to ensure the lettable offices achieve a ‘B’ EPC rating.
  • Planning application for the Hop Exchange Infill development to achieve a BREEAM rating of “Excellent”
  • The recent refitting of Chapter House in partnership with Runway East which has included the removal of all gas-powered services and the installation of modern air conditioning, fresh air ventilation and electrical services.

We have in the past year invested over £200,000 in a new roof on the industrial unit at 6 Clayton Wood Bank, Leeds. We were able to undertake this work while the tenant was in occupation. It has improved the energy efficiency of the building and provided a better building in which the tenant is now considering making further investment themselves to create a long term home for their business.

As our environmental policy and targets develop, we will benchmark performance in order to quantify improvements. This will be undertaken by our recently appointed Compliance and Sustainability Manager. However, external auditing may play a part in the future.

The Social criteria in ESG is used to examine how Peer Group manages its’ relationships with employees, suppliers, tenants, and the communities in which it operates. 20% of Peer Group’s shareholding is owned by Brightside Limited on behalf of The Birrane Foundation. This charitable foundation was set up by Martin Birrane in 2016 to provide donations to good causes including youth charities. The Good Causes committee comprises three nominated members of the Birrane family, and that committee makes recommendations to the Trustees. The Trustees are Peer Group’s Chairman, Managing Director and a third-party corporate trustee. The Birrane Foundation receives 20% of the dividend income declared by Peer Group which in the last year provided a £300,000 income to be gifted to Good Causes. Our employees are our single most important resource. Peer Group has adapted to changes and offer staff an open culture where staff feel free to express their opinions and where individual and collective contributions are recognised. As at 30th November 2021, the average length of service for the 19 permanent members of staff is 8.1 years suggesting that overall, staff are satisfied with the company they work for.

Staff salaries are reviewed annually having regard to individual performance and market comparable. A combination of salary increase and bonus are used to reward staff. The company also funds other staff activities during the year including a Christmas Party and other ad hoc social events. Peer Group provides flexibility around working hours and an understanding policy regarding time off. A remote working policy is being introduced from January 2022 allowing all staff to work remotely, if they wish to, on a Wednesday. Staff receive a five-week annual holiday allowance with the ability to carry over unused days to the following year. All sickness is paid in full (subject to review of any long-term sickness) and there are special policies in place for compassionate leave. Via our external HR consultancy all staff are offered access to a confidential Employee Assistance Programme. Peer Group utilises external consultancies to provide HR and Health & Safety services. Ownership of these policies rests with Executive Directors. The monthly Executive Team meetings include agenda items to discuss staff matters and Health & Safety. Peer Group uses many different suppliers across our business, and it is our policy to pay suppliers within agreed payment terms wherever possible. Peer Group aims to be the “landlord of choice” in Southwark. We seek long term relationships with tenants, built on trust and a straightforward approach. We have a variety of sizes of office space in the portfolio and can offer tenants the ability to move from one space to another to suit the changing requirements they may have. We also look to develop the tenant community in Southwark, holding an annual Christmas reception for all of our tenants, suppliers and advisers based in the local area.

Governance Governance deals with a company’s leadership, decision making, audits, internal controls, executive pay and shareholder rights. Peer Group’s decision making is structured and transparent. We publish an organisational structure chart. Authority and accountability flow through the company based upon that structure. The Board comprises three members of the Birrane family plus the four Executive Directors. The Chairman of the Peer Group Board is a non-executive Chairman, but she is a shareholder and represents the Birrane family. The Managing Director has been in post since 1997 and reports to the Chairman. He leads the Executive Team in its day-to-day management of the business.

In addition to the Managing Director, there are three Executive Directors, each responsible for leading one of the operational teams which are i) Property ii) Finance and iii) Legal. The Board meet formally twice a year (July and December) to review reports from the Executive Team. At the December Board meeting, the Board receives the Financial Year End Accounts for approval and a report from the auditors who are currently BDO. At this meeting the Board considers its’ recommendation to be made to the AGM about the level of dividend to be declared. The Board also meet at other times when required to take decisions that are not delegated to the Executive Team. An annual AGM is held, usually in January. This AGM is notified to all members (shareholders) with appropriate Notice. The meeting considers the annual accounts and approves the dividend recommendations of the Board. The Executive Team meets formally once a month and informally on a weekly basis. The meetings are led by the Manging Director. The Chairman attends these meetings. The monthly meetings are structured with an Agenda and minutes of the meeting are taken, circulated and approved. A wide range of matters are discussed including property, finance (including banking), legal, staff, compliance. The Executive Team operates under a financial authority matrix, approved by the Board, which delegates pre agreed financial limits to the Executive Team and individual Executive Directors and staff. The Managing Director meets weekly with the Property Director and monthly with the Finance Director and Legal Director. A three-monthly meeting, supported with a written report, takes place to review activity on the entire property portfolio. This is attended by two shareholder Directors, the four Executive Directors and the members of the professional teams involved in the day-to-day activities of the business.

Social

The Social criteria in ESG is used to examine how Peer Group manages its’ relationships with employees, suppliers, tenants, and the communities in which it operates.

20% of Peer Group’s shareholding is owned by Brightside Limited on behalf of The Birrane Foundation. This charitable foundation was set up by Martin Birrane in 2016 to provide donations to good causes including youth charities. The Good Causes committee comprises three nominated members of the Birrane family, and that committee makes recommendations to the Trustees. The Trustees are Peer Group’s Chairman, Managing Director and a third-party corporate trustee. The Birrane Foundation receives 20% of the dividend income declared by Peer Group which in the last year provided a £300,000 income to be gifted to Good Causes.

Our employees are our single most important resource. Peer Group has adapted to changes and offer staff an open culture where staff feel free to express their opinions and where individual and collective contributions are recognised. As at 30th November 2021, the average length of service for the 19 permanent members of staff is 8.1 years suggesting that overall, staff are satisfied with the company they work for.

Staff salaries are reviewed annually having regard to individual performance and market comparable. A combination of salary increase and bonus are used to reward staff. The company also funds other staff activities during the year including a Christmas Party and other ad hoc social events.

Peer Group provides flexibility around working hours and an understanding policy regarding time off. A remote working policy is being introduced from January 2022 allowing all staff to work remotely, if they wish to, on a Wednesday. Staff receive a five-week annual holiday allowance with the ability to carry over unused days to the following year. All sickness is paid in full (subject to review of any long-term sickness) and there are special policies in place for compassionate leave. Via our external HR consultancy all staff are offered access to a confidential Employee Assistance Programme.

Peer Group utilises external consultancies to provide HR and Health & Safety services. Ownership of these policies rests with Executive Directors. The monthly Executive Team meetings include agenda items to discuss staff matters and Health & Safety. Peer Group uses many different suppliers across our business, and it is our policy to pay suppliers within agreed payment terms wherever possible.

Peer Group aims to be the “landlord of choice” in Southwark. We seek long term relationships with tenants, built on trust and a straightforward approach. We have a variety of sizes of office space in the portfolio and can offer tenants the ability to move from one space to another to suit the changing requirements they may have. We also look to develop the tenant community in Southwark, holding an annual Christmas reception for all of our tenants, suppliers and advisers based in the local area.

Governance

Governance deals with a company’s leadership, decision making, audits, internal controls, executive pay and shareholder rights.

Peer Group’s decision making is structured and transparent. We publish an organisational structure chart. Authority and accountability flow through the company based upon that structure.

The Board comprises three members of the Birrane family plus the four Executive Directors. The Chairman of the Peer Group Board is a non-executive Chairman, but she is a shareholder and represents the Birrane family.

The Managing Director has been in post since 1997 and reports to the Chairman. He leads the Executive Team in its day-to-day management of the business.

In addition to the Managing Director, there are three Executive Directors, each responsible for leading one of the operational teams which are i) Property ii) Finance and iii) Legal. The Board meet formally twice a year (July and December) to review reports from the Executive Team. At the December Board meeting, the Board receives the Financial Year End Accounts for approval and a report from the auditors who are currently BDO. At this meeting the Board considers its’ recommendation to be made to the AGM about the level of dividend to be declared. The Board also meet at other times when required to take decisions that are not delegated to the Executive Team.

An annual AGM is held, usually in January. This AGM is notified to all members (shareholders) with appropriate Notice. The meeting considers the annual accounts and approves the dividend recommendations of the Board.

The Executive Team meets formally once a month and informally on a weekly basis. The meetings are led by the Manging Director. The Chairman attends these meetings. The monthly meetings are structured with an Agenda and minutes of the meeting are taken, circulated and approved. A wide range of matters are discussed including property, finance (including banking), legal, staff, compliance.

The Executive Team operates under a financial authority matrix, approved by the Board, which delegates pre agreed financial limits to the Executive Team and individual Executive Directors and staff.

The Managing Director meets weekly with the Property Director and monthly with the Finance Director and Legal Director.

A three-monthly meeting, supported with a written report, takes place to review activity on the entire property portfolio. This is attended by two shareholder Directors, the four Executive Directors and the members of the professional teams involved in the day-to-day activities of the business

 

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