Property, planning and development research

The property sector faces many challenges surrounding the economic environment, its reputation and particular development issues.

Populus helps property clients to understand the views of important stakeholders from tenants to other residents in developed areas, from investors to politicians. We’ve worked with a number of different clients including the British Property Federation (BPF), Westfield and British Land.

Our property experts

Sonia Abrahams
Celia Roberts

Sonia is highly experienced in qualitative and quantitative methodologies, with over 15 years of experience, across a range of audiences for a range of private, public and third sector clients.

Her work in property and development range from stakeholder engagement and reputation audit work, to tenant engagement and development consultation, including around sensitive or controversial development plans.

She has worked on stakeholder engagement research for property sector clients including the British Property Federation, The Crown Estate and Barratt Homes.

She has particular experience of working with housing associations, including L&Q, SOHA and Stonewater.

Her broader development and infrastructure work include a number of projects for Heathrow around the Third Runway, including Western Rail development and access charging.

Celia is a Senior Consultant at Populus. She manages large scale quantitative and qualitative research programmes for a number of long-standing clients including the Premier League, BT, and government departments among stakeholders, the public, and special interest groups.

She is an expert in the property sector, running recent research projects for the British Property Federation, the Crown Estate, Grainger, and L&Q. Her property sector experiences spans in-depth research among senior leaders within the industry, politicians, customers and the general public.

Celia graduated from the University of Exeter in 2013 having completed a BA in English and Spanish for which she spent a year living and studying in Madrid. In 2016, Celia completed the MRS Certificate, for which she received a distinction.

Our Case studies

Westfield Milan
British Property Federation


Westfield Milan wanted to understand the role, style and appeal of regional foods, food brands, restaurant chains and International chains within the Italian market. They also wanted to pinpoint the key times of day when Italian consumers use food & dining outlets.


To really get to the heart of the issues we used a multi-method qualitative approach incorporating an online community, ethnographic depths 6 x 2 hr focus groups, Insight To Action Workshop plus a Trend Walk around the culinary highlights of Milan.


This combined approach allowed us to truly understand the city’s food culture and the expectations that Milanese consumers would have of the Westfield offer.

We used our Insight To Action debrief workshop to develop a range of specific actions that Westfield Milan could take to ensure that their food and beverage offer was as appealing as possible. These actions ranged from broad contextual and cultural advice to specific actions for leasing and marketing



L&Q is a charitable housing association and one of the UK’s most successful independent social businesses. Beginning in 1963 as the Quadrant Housing Association, it was born out of a growing social consciousness around housing and homelessness. This consciousness remains a core part of the business, with L&Q aiming to provide quality, affordable homes for the most vulnerable in society.

It is now the largest landlord in Greater London, owning or managing over 92,000 homes, primarily in London and the South East. In December 2016 L&Q merged with the East Thames Housing Group and in February 2017, L&Q completed a deal to buy the private land company Gallagher Estates. They have plans to build 100,000 new homes over the next ten years.

With organisational changes embedded, L&Q’s priorities are to invest in its existing homes, transform customer service and build more homes to tackle the national housing crisis. Its geographic expansion, moving beyond London and the South East, is currently focused on Essex, Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, Warwickshire and the North West. L&Q sought out stakeholder research to:

  • Understand perception of L&Q, its business strategy and broader social purpose
  • Understand wider perceptions of housing associations and where L&Q fits in the sector
  • Explore attitudes towards L&Q’s future priorities
  • Address perceptions of its growth plans, as well as the company’s wider reputation
  • Investigate stakeholder attitude towards L&Q’s communication


Populus interviewed 55 stakeholders via telephone between February and April 2019. Stakeholders came from a range of backgrounds and included representatives from central, regional and local government, London MPs and L&Q’s own joint venture partners and investors.

Interviews were in-depth conversations that lasted around 20 minutes and provided L&Q with a rich and detailed understanding of what its key stakeholders think, as well as giving the company an insight into how best to engage with these stakeholders based on their immediate priorities.


L&Q Assistant Director of Communications, Gavin Jefferies says about the research:

“Populus got to grips with our brief really quickly. Their approach – to conduct more in-depth, qualitative interviews – meant that we gained real insights into what stakeholders think of L&Q and why. The research is now helping to shape our future approach to stakeholder communications and engagement.”


The British Property Federation (BPF) is the voice of the UK property sector and must communicate the sector’s impact on the UK’s social and economic wellbeing, ensuring that stakeholders who influence government policies understand the implications their decisions have on the UK property sector.

The BPF commissioned Populus to undertake its inaugural sector reputation audit, to understand what various stakeholders understand about it to create an optimised communications strategy and ensure its voice is heard by critical decision-makers.


Populus took a “two pronged” approach:

  1. Research with senior stakeholders who have direct impact on decision making, including in-depth interviews with MPs, journalists, City Leaders and NGOs and a suvey of MPs;
  2. General public research (those with indirect impact), by survey and focus groups.

We examined:

  • Overall favourability compared to other sectors
  • Understanding of the sector
  • Messaging
British Land
Westfield London


As a priority of the Scottish government, the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) aims to modernise and upgrade the infrastructure of the Scottish rail network. As part of this wider programme the Glasgow Queen Street station will be redeveloped to meet predicted growth in rail passengers and accommodate longer trains running on main lines in future.


Populus were commissioned to design and manage a research programme to assess and monitor rail passengers’ views on the redevelopment work starting in November 2014 at Glasgow Queen Street station and to evaluate the impact on passengers before, during and after completion of the works. This research was undertaken on behalf of the key stakeholders Transport Scotland, Network Rail and Scotrail. The Populus approach was to place interviewers at key points around Queen Street Station.


The survey was completed by nearly 1000 passengers and results have been used to set the benchmark of current passenger experience and expectations from which ongoing future waves will be measured against to understand the impact of the works.


As one of Europe’s largest publicly listed real estate trusts, British Land understands that occupiers see their work space as an important part of recruiting the best talent. With this in mind, British Land regularly put on events and activations to ensure their campuses continue to be enjoyable places to work. One such event was the Urban Eden campaign.  The key objective of this campaign was to boost a sense of well-being for the mind and body, whilst embracing green spaces in the city.

Research was needed to understand how the campaign was received, who attended and how it impacted on opinion of the campus being a desirable place to work.


Populus conducted 300 face to face interviews (utilising tablets) whilst the campaign was active.  Fieldwork included a mixture of weekdays/weekends/evenings to align with key activations and to ensure that the sample was representative of all visitors (not just campus workers).


Results were used to inform and improve future activities and to provide PR material for new occupiers


Westfield wanted to understand how shoppers felt about the retail experience in Westfield London. In particular they wanted guidance on the current retail & food mix and for Populus to provide recommendations for how it could be improved in the future.

Westfield were also interested in how shoppers interacted with the retail environment and how the experience could be improved.


Rather than simply ask shoppers about their experience, we used immersive workshops which allowed us to unlock their creativity and for them to come up with interesting insights and solutions.

As part of the workshops we sent shoppers on immersive video safaris to gather individual feedback which helped highlight issues and bring them to life for stakeholders.


We were able to advise Westfield on how they should develop their retail mix in the future to develop some key targets further.

Our recommendations included developing an improved, higher end food offer that would add a further reason to stay in the centre.

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