Moorfields to build Xanadu in Lancashire

Moorfields Estates, a small, London-based property investment and development group led by two former top-rated property analysts, hopes to leap into the big-time by leading a consortium to build Xanadu, a pounds 150m sports and leisure park in Lancashire.

The size of the proposed development, which will include an 80,000 sq ft hotel and retail complex on a 70 acre site between Liverpool and Manchester, dwarfs Moorfield's market value of under pounds 40m.

The proposition has yet to win planning permission or financial backing, but the consortium, which applied for planning permission yesterday, consists of a local developer, Greenbank Partnerships, Acer Snowmec, a subsidiary of Hyder, the Welsh water and electricity utility, and Wigan borough council.

Twin themes of the leisure complex will be skiing and aquatics, housed in a 1.5m sq ft domed building. It will contain an alpine village and a 375,000 sq ft skiing facility with a new kind of "real" snow, providing ski runs and snowboarding.

It will also have a 165,000 sq ft aquatics centre, featuring a 50m pool approved for competitions up to Olympic standard, and a leisure pool with indoor facilities. The aquatics complex has already been approved in principle by the Sports Lottery Evaluation Panel and the English Sports Council.

The complex will also include a megaplex cinema and a screen-based "virtual reality experience". Construction could start in 1999, and altogether the complex could create 5,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs once the complex is up and running.

"Strong interest is already being expressed by major leisure and retail space users. As a result we are extremely confident of pre-letting much of the scheme while the proposal goes through the planning process," Marc Gilbard, Moorfield's chief executive, said yesterday.

The project was also welcomed by the leader of Wigan council, Mr Peter Smith, who said: "Xanadu will send out a positive image of the borough, a location where the unexpected can and does happen."

Moorfields made a profit of pounds 59,000 last year under its new management led by Mr Gilbard and Graham Stanley, two former property analysts at Goldman Sachs, whose ambitions are to shake up the UK property sector. It unsuccessfully attempted to take over its bigger rival Greycoat last year with an all-share offer worth pounds 214m.

The shares were unchanged at 26p yesterday.

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