Chelsfield takes pounds 102m to the shops

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The Independent Online
Chelsfield, the property company that owns the Wentworth golf club and a share in the famous Babelsberg film studios near Berlin, raised the stakes in its bet on the buoyant regional shopping centre market yesterday.

The company, chaired by Elliott Bernerd, has raised pounds 102m to buy in the 10 per cent it does not already own of the giant Merry Hill site in the West Midlands, and to part fund a huge shopping and leisure development at White City in west London.

The cash call, three shares for 10 at 220p compared with Monday's close of 254p, was broadly welcomed by the City, which sees Mr Bernerd as one of a small band of entrepreneurial property developers who are making money in an otherwise stagnant commercial property market.

The so-called "asset sweaters", who also include the Freeman brothers at Argent, and Nigel Wray and Nick Leslau at Burford, are increasingly taking large bets on big retail and leisure developments in an attempt to create the value that other areas of the property market such as non- prime office blocks have failed to produce for several years.

The White City development, which Mr Bernerd kicked into life after the 37-acre site lay derelict for years while its owners squabbled over differing proposals, is thought to be one of the last opportunities to build a sizeable regional shopping centre following a tightening of the Government's planning advice to reflect environmental concerns.

Chelsfield has spent pounds 50m putting the site together and expects to spend a further pounds 200m, with the support of Scottish Amicable and General Accident, to develop it.

White City is expected to include 620,000 square feet of retail space and a further 220,000 of leisure-related area with cinemas, restaurants and sports facilities. The site, which is next to the M41 spur road into west London, will have 4,500 parking spaces and will be served by four Underground stations and a new rail passenger station.

Chelsfield now owns 100 per cent of the Merry Hill Shopping Centre near Dudley in the West Midlands, after a series of transactions that have secured it control for about pounds 40m. Following a doubling in the centre's rental income, it is now expected to be worth more than pounds 250m and with lower average rents than some of its rivals, such as Capital Shopping Centre's Lakeside site, is thought to have scope for further gains.

Investment column, page 22