By Andy Sambidge
Council chief's concern after Qatari Diar announces review of £3bn Chelsea Barracks plan
The Qatari developers of the stalled £3bn Chelsea Barracks real estate project have been told to “start work or sell up”.
The London site, bought for almost £1bn six years ago, is still a wasteland 18 months after Qatari Diar won planning permission from Westminster Council.
In comments published by London's Evening Standard, the authority’s housing chief Jonathan Glanz urged Qatari Diar to deliver the 120-plus affordable homes and £78m cash contribution it promised.
Glanz told the Standard: “Until there is a substantial start, that money is not going to come over and that is a concern. We would say ‘do it or don’t do it’ and if you’re not going to do it let someone else come along and take up the cudgels.
"We had very much hoped that as soon as the consent was signed off we would see a start on site. It is not doing anyone much good as an abandoned site.”
His comments came as Qatari Diar said the planned project — dubbed a “Gucci ghetto” by critics — was being reviewed in “the context of the prevailing economic environment”.
The 12.8 acre Chelsea Barracks site had been in military use and closed to the public for more than 150 years.
The Qatari master plan will open up and reconnect it to the surrounding areas of Belgravia and Chelsea in a new integrated residential neighbourhood in a landscaped setting.
Houses and apartments will be combined with local convenience shops, restaurants, a multi-purpose community/cultural centre, a public sports and fitness facility and a medical centre.
The landscaped areas will feature productive gardens, public art and more than 100 new trees set in some of London first new squares for more than a century.
Chelsea Barracks Action Group chair Georgine Thorburn told the BBC: "We quite like it without anything on the site.
"For all the local residents, we're going to have to put up with five years of building six days a week, it's going to be very stressful.
"While the site is empty and everything is quiet, quite a lot of people living by the barracks have fabulous views and we like the calm so long may it last."
Qatar, which owns a string of property assets in London, including 80 percent of Western Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, Harrods and the US embassy, won approval for the 13-acre site in the summer of 2011 but work on the project has not progressed.
The gas and oil-rich state was forced to scrap a modernist scheme designed by Lord Rogers following intervention by Prince Charles.
The heir to the throne personally wrote to the prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, urging the Gulf state to “bequeath a unique and enduring legacy to London”.
The news follows days after the UK’s Office for National Statistics released figures that showed the economy shrank 0.3 percent in the last three months of 2012, putting the country on course for its third recession in four years. The figures were worse than expected.
Qatar’s concerns about the British economy have been compounded by the lack of demand for office space in The Shard. The owners have yet to confirm any corporate residence lettings in the building’s 575,000 sqft of office space.