Denton Wilde Sapte, Wragge & Co and Steedman Ramage have won key roles advising Marks & Spencer (M&S) on its efforts to release value from its £2.7bn property portfolio, but the company's other main law firm SJ Berwin has not been picked
Denton Wilde Sapte property partner Gill Briant is leading a team working on the group of 80 properties set to go into a restricted sale and leaseback to raise more than £300m. Steedman Ramage is handling the Scottish properties within that group. Briant said that the work is reasonably well advanced and involves due diligence as well as other confidential aspects. Briant's team is also involved in due diligence work on a second, slightly smaller group of properties, which M&S may decide to securitise. Briant said: "The method and structure of the first group is now fixed. What will happen to the second group is not yet decided." Briant, who has a 20-year relationship with M&S, was invited to pitch for the work. She said: "A sizeable firm is needed to do this because it involves quite a large number of properties and requires a degree of speed to get things from inception to conclusion. Quite a few of these properties we reacquired some time ago, which means they have to be looked at afresh. The historic knowledge of the surveyors within M&S has to be tapped into to check the position on these properties." M&S is understood to want to complete the deals by December. Briant said: "M&S has taken the decision to work its properties harder for it, so it wants to move ahead at quite a speed." Head of legal Robert Ivens confirmed that the exact structure of the deal is still being developed. "Due diligence work on the properties is taking up a large amount of time internally and externally. The objective is to drive value out of the properties for our shareholders," he said. Despite not being involved on the sale and leaseback, SJ Berwin property partner Tom O'Grady is also closely involved in the retailer's property strategy. O'Grady acted for M&S on its recent deal to relocate its HQ from Baker Street to Paddington Basin, which is allied to the future redevelopment of the Baker Street site.