Royal Mail had a large sorting office slap in the centre of Brighton. The building was put up in the 1930s and the work inside went on day and night. In the days when the mail went by rail, it was a good location, a couple of hundred yards from the station. But for those who lived nearby, it was a bad neighbour, since it generated a huge volume of traffic, often carelessly driven. In the late 1980s, it was modernised with new sorting equipment, but soon after, the sorting process was moved to a new centre at Gatwick. The building was then reduced to the status of a distribution centre and most of the property was virtually unused. A prime development site, it could have been sold and the operation moved to a shed in an industrial estate on the edge of town. But it languished, rising steadily in value until the latest crash. The same story can be told all over the country, but the potential for cashing in was always there. Now that Royal Mail has been privatised, the profit will no doubt be taken.
The public sector utilities have shown themselves to be as addicted to land hoarding as the house builders with their land banks. As with British Rail, what was being flogged off as part of Royal Mail was a massive property portfolio. This has been the subject of a study by law firm Clifford Chance
. We now know that this particular item of family silver has been disposed of to the in-crowd in the City for a fraction of its real value. The taxpayer has been the loser yet again.