When A Development Isn't A Development

Journalists sometimes get taken for a ride - and deservedly so, you may say, given that hacks sometimes do the same to their interviewees. But for property journos, the danger is often less-than-obvious.

A famous case was back in 2006 when several senior property writers, myself included, went on a press trip to France. The glamour and appeal were obvious, of course, but we really did believe the 'developers' were serious - stories appeared, in due course, in The Times, Daily Mail, Independent, Daily Telegraph and elsewhere.

In reality the 'development' was rather less the real. A firm was trying to raise its profile to increase its chance of borrowing enough to actually build the scheme, so it spent a large proportion of the small sum of money it actually had on PR, including a lavish press trip.

We fell for it, but even our extensive reporting was not enough for the scheme to ever get funding - although we, through our papers, told British readers that it was going to be built, because we uncritically reported what we were told.

Now we know a little better but the same tricks are still sometimes played, although these days with less effect.

A PR company recently asked me if I knew of an "exciting/luxury/unique/best-in-class" (delete where applicable) development in the far south west of England - in fact, the 'development' currently consists of a pair of show houses.

When I asked the PR firm for details of the developer, none were forthcoming - a good sign that this may be another scheme that may be more fanciful than real.

There is of course nothing remotely illegal or unexpected in this.

PR firms often promote schemes they know will never see the light of day: they promote them because the developer wants a higher profile, either to raise a loan or ahead of a different business activity which would benefit from 'good press'.

It is of course up to journalists to sort the wheat from the chaff. Many of us were too naive to do the French press trip sorting properly six years ago: now most (but not all) of us have wised up.

The lesson? Don't believe everything you read about promised new developments until they actually come out of the ground.

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