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End in sight for White City talks

NEGOTIATIONS over building a huge pounds 500m shopping centre at White City in west London, the capital's biggest property development since Canary Wharf, are understood to be nearing completion after a two-year stand-off between rival consortia, writes Paul Farrelly.

Sources close to the talks say an end is now in sight after "sensitive negotiations" that will almost certainly see some of the nine separate parties drop out.

The plans centre around building 600,000 sq ft of retail, leisure and housing space on a derelict 35-acre site at White City in what would become west London's equivalent of Brent Cross, the hugely successful shopping centre in north London.

A group involving Sainsbury, Railtrack, construction group BICC and private developer Bridehall controls part of the site but does not yet have planning permission.

It has been at loggerheads with rivals, led by Elliott Bernerd's Chelsfield and ex-Rosehaugh developer Godfrey Bradman, who do have outline consent and who, through London Transport, own another part of the land.

Institutional funding for each would be provided by General Accident and Scottish Amicable respectively, who would put up roughly half the cost.

None of the parties would comment on the record but sources close to the talks said a compromise could now be just a few weeks away.

"We're not interested in a consortium of eight or nine of us," one key player said. "It's like three-dimensional chess, but we're making good progress. We are close and our intention is to get it done," he added.

Further news is likely to emerge this week, when Chelsfield announces 1995 profits on Tuesday. These are expected to come in at around pounds 10m, roughly the same as 1994.

Mr Bernerd's group levered itself into a pivotal role last September, when it bought the Vanderbilt tennis club on the site.

The club, which boasts celebrity members such as Harold Pinter, Dustin Hoffman and architect Sir Richard Rogers, is likely to be demolished and relocated to pave the way for the development. But no work can go ahead without its permission.

The project also brings together former Tory ministers David Mellor, who advises Chelsfield, and Lord Young, who has a personal stake in the venture. Conservative party treasurer Lord Hambro is also a member of the Vanderbilt club.

Much of the tension is understood to have come from a poor relationship between Mr Bradman and BICC, which owns part of the land, though Chelsfield's involvement is thought to have sidelined the former Rosehaugh boss.