Chelsea Barracks scheme on hold as UK economy stalls

The ‘Guardian’ reports;

“Qatari Diar, emirate’s property arm, puts London’s £3bn Chelsea Barracks project under review amid doubts over plan’s viability

Qatar has put its biggest single investment in London on hold, citing concerns about the British economy. The gas and oil-rich state has placed the £3bn Chelsea Barracks housing development under review and a source close to the project said that while it could still go ahead, one option was to sell the site without building what has been dubbed a “Gucci ghetto” of 450 luxurious residences and 123 affordable homes.

Qatari Diar, the emirate’s property arm, has planning permission for the scheme, which includes seven-bedroom mansions as well as one-bedroom flats. But today the £1bn site stands empty with weeds growing through the concrete.

“It now seems a huge gamble to deliver all of this,” a Qatari source told the Guardian. “[The developers] will take their time and see how the numbers stack up in due course.” He added that while the scheme could still be built, “they could sell [the site] any time”.

The decision to put the scheme on hold is seen as so sensitive that it has not been communicated to key consultants on the project. Architects commissioned to draw up the masterplan, including the designers of the Royal Opera House, Dixon Jones, have not received instructions for over a year and Westminster city council, which granted planning consent in the summer of 2011, has been kept in the dark.

Local and national politicians had hoped the development would help alleviate London’s acute shortage of affordable housing. When the site was being sold by the MoD, the then communities minister, Lady Andrews, said affordable housing units would contribute to solving “the enormous housing stresses in London”. If the scheme were to be built, the Qataris would also be due to contribute £78m to Westminster city council’s housing fund.

This week the site was desolate. Instead of bustling construction, buddleia sprouted from concrete and guard dogs prowled behind barbed wire-topped hoardings. “I’m not sure anyone outside the Gulf knows [what’s going on],” said a consultant working on the scheme. “When I ask the guys from Qatari Diar [in London], they just shrug their shoulders. It received outline consent in late 2011 and some work was done moving things forward with detailed designs. Those designs were sent to Doha and that was it.

“They paid about £1bn for the site and maybe that was just pin money to them. It doesn’t make sense to me. I look at what is on offer at Chelsea and I think people would snap it up.”

A source who was until recently working on the project said: “It’s odd they’re not doing anything because the residential markets are really rolling right now.”

The lack of activity has been a mixed blessing for local opponents of the project, with some delighted that there is no building happening and others concerned at the uncertainty.

“We’re selling London out to the Qataris and they’re not coming up with the goods,” said Georgina Thorburn, chairwoman of the Chelsea Barracks Action Group, a local group opposed to the development. “A lot of local people have been very stressed out by this project, particularly the older residents, who worry about the impact on their lives.

“I’m not talking about the rich, but people who have been in the area a long time. They’re the ones who want news.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/28/qatar-halts-chelsea-barracks-scheme

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