Monsoon founder to build £30m HQ on land he owns

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The Independent Online

Peter Simon, the chairman of Monsoon, has waded into a fresh furore over plans to build£30m headquarters for the fashion chain on land owned by a company he controls privately.

The prospective move to the site in west London is likely to inflame criticism that Mr Simon runs the AIM-listed clothing group like a private company. He has twice tried to buy out minority shareholders, but failed on both occasions because he was not prepared to pay enough for the group he founded more than three decades ago.

The plan is to build Monsoon a seven-storey headquarters on a Notting Hill industrial estate owned by Houge, a property investor that forms part of Mr Simon's myriad private interests. Construction of the 240,000 sq ft building is expected to startnext month with an eye to moving into the site in early 2008.

Monsoon's existing head office is an art deco-style, grade II-listed building in Paddington Basin, London. The site is also owned privately by Mr Simon. Before he took on the property, known locally as the Battleship because of its shape, it had stood vacant for several years. It was designed by Paul Hamilton in 1969 for British Rail as part of the now-defunct railway company's post-war building programme.

Monsoon moved there in 2001 but has overgrown the space available. Its design department has expanded several-fold in recent years after it added lines such as childrenswear, home and men's clothing. More than 600 people work at the site.

A spokesman for the company said Monsoon's few outside investors had enjoyed the benefit of cheap rent in a prime location for years. The company pays £1.3m in rent a year, in an arrangement described as a "related-party transaction" in its annual report.

Mr Simon has his finger in several property pies, in the UK and abroad. One of his best-known investments is in the ultra-fashionable Electric Cinema in Portobello Road, west London, into which he sunk £4m to redevelop after it too had lain derelict. It is now part of Soho House, which operates private members' clubs in some of the world's most exclusive locations.

Through various trusts, the Simon family controls about 75 per cent of Monsoon, leaving Mr Simon, as executive chairman, free to run the business as he sees fit. It has no independent directors, its sole non-executive being Anton Simon, Peter's brother.

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