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Qatar puts controversial Chelsea Barracks project on hold

Published: Updated:

Right here in the heart of central London, 52,000 square meters of prime real estate, vacant for the past five years, ever since a Qatari property company snapped up land for nearly 1 billion pounds sterling.

New questions being raised about the fate of the Chelsea Barracks project after its owner, Qatari Diar , said it was ‘reviewing’ the development, estimated to be worth 3 billion pounds, because of the economic conditions in the UK.

Some reports also indicate that Qatar may choose to sell the land as is without developing it.

The project on the banks of the river Thames and in the heart of upscale Chelsea has been marred by controversy since its announcement back in 2007 to the point that Prince Charles even intervened. The land has historical significance, it was home to the royal guard and used to be owned by the Ministry of Defence. Also, there were objections to the architectural design from the prince and members of the local community.

The original design by renowned architect Richard Rogers was for modernist glass and steel structures, some of them standing at more than 39 meters high but that met with fierce opposition from the local community.

Chelsea Barracks Action Group chair Georgine Thorburn said: “The Rogers design was a modular glass and steel and for those who don’t know this part of London; this is an iconic part of our capital, its full of low lying buildings and houses with gardens and it is the epitome of Chelsea and Belgravia on a conservation estate.”

After Prince Charles wrote a letter for the emir of Qatar asking him to re-think the design, Qatari Diar hired a new set of architects but local residents say they still don’t have details of the final design.

“We have no design at all, we only have what they call an envelope, we know how high it is and how wide it is, we have no clue what the design is and we are only hoping that we will get something reasonably classical, but I think quite frankly the Qataris have made a good purchase here, it’s only under a billion for 13 acres (52,000 M2) in London SW1 Chelsea Belgravia, I don’t believe the Qataris will sell this site, I think that eventually they will develop it,” Thorburn added.

Qatar is the one of the largest foreign investors in the UK property market with a portfolio that includes the Shard tower and luxury retailer Harrods.

Experts say Qatar is keen on maintaining positive ties with the UK and its review of Chelsea Barracks could be an attempt to avoid further controversy.

While others say the decision to put the project on hold stems for concern over future demand for high end properties, especially with the Shard being inaugurated just a few months ago.

Still, it appears the Shard is as popular as ever. Western Europe’s tallest building just opened a viewing gallery on the 72nd floor last week.