Qatar in planning row over London project

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(Image for illustrative purposes).

(Image for illustrative purposes).

The Qatari royal family risks becoming embroiled in a bitter row between a developer and residents in Lambeth, south London, over plans to turn the former headquarters of the London Fire Brigade on the capital's South Bank into luxury housing, reported the UK's The Observer.

The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) left the former fire brigade HQ at 8 Albert Embankment in 2008 and, in conjunction with Native Land – in which the Qatari investors hold a 45 percent stake – applied for planning permission to convert the site.

The proposed development of 265 apartments was blocked by Lambeth's planning committee after it emerged that only 7 percent of the site would be devoted to social housing. Lambeth has a policy of demanding that 40 percent of any development is given over to affordable housing.

The old fire brigade headquarters would form part of a development of a 2.5 acre site that would comprise a total of 27,871 sqm of residential and commercial space in seven buildings.

The development's website explains that it "will offer residents a variety of amenities including a gym, tennis court, extensive roof gardens, a club room, bar and billiards rooms, as well as concierge".

The committee's decision to reject the plan is now the subject of a bitterly-fought appeal launched by Native Land.

If the project does obtain a final go-ahead, it will become the latest Qatari-backed high-profile development in the capital, following the Shard and the proposed GBP£3bn redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks.

The Embankment development is provoking strong feelings among local people at a time when there is a housing crisis in the capital.

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is calling for more public sector land to build affordable homes.

In its submission to the appeal, the local Waterloo Community Development Action Group said: "When these flats come to be sold, it is most likely that they will be bought as investment properties by foreign owners who have little intention of occupying them."

Under the terms of the deal, the LFEPA will receive GBP£41m. However, it acknowledged in its minutes that "depending on the finalised scheme, then the price payable to the authority may be increased by a development profit-share upon the final selling price of the development if this exceeds the agreed contractual limits".

The deal also includes the construction of a new fire station at a cost of around GBP£5m.

Native Land claims that devoting more than 7 percent of the development to social housing would make it economically unviable due to additional costs such as the refurbishment of the fire station on the site and renovation of the Grade II-listed buildings.

On its website the company's CEO Alasdair Nicholls, stressed that the development had been "designed with a careful understanding of the site context" and "would be a vibrant new addition to London's South Bank".

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