People & Business

A huge gang of marauding regulators burst upon an unsuspecting Canary Wharf in London's Docklands yesterday to give their new head office the once-over.

The 30-plus party of sightseers from NewRo, the proposed body formed from seven investment regulators, was led by its leader elect, Howard Davies, who chose the new location. Which is pretty brave of Mr Davies, considering he lives in faraway Ealing, on the other side of London.

The visitors swarmed off the Docklands Light Railway sporting little name badges on their lapels - DTI, Bank of England, SIB and so on. Even the transport system got into the spirit of the occasion, flashing up "DLR welcomes NewRo" on its electronic notice board.

More than 2,100 bureaucrats will move to the building at 25 North Colonnade which contains more than 363,000 square feet of office space.

The capture of NewRo means that Canary Wharf, only half-let during the recession, is now more than 90 per cent full, although the top 11 floors of the tower are still available. There is also new building, so by next month Canary Wharf will have 1,635,000 square feet of office space under construction.

One regulator said the guided tours were in order to "win hearts and minds" for the location. "A lot of people never been there and have only read about it in the press." Yesterday's was just the first of a large number of visits planned.

The regulator source adds: "We're hoping the Jubilee Line underground extension to Canary Wharf will open on time next September - that's when we move in."

The drugs group Scotia is introducing an appetite suppressant for slimmers called "Ileal Brake", a naturally occurring drug which sends signals to your brain saying your tummy's full so you end up eating 30 per cent fewer calories per meal.

A Swedish company is already using it in yoghurts, as Scotia's chairman, Sir James McKinnon, found to his cost. He was in Stockholm to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of a Scotia subsidiary called LipidTeknik, and attended a sumptuous feast to that end. He tried one of the yoghurts, not knowing it contained the new drug, liked it and had another one. The result was he felt stuffed and couldn't manage a morsel of the feast. There's a moral in there somewhere.

The normally gritty Sir Lawrie Barratt, the grand old man of the house- building industry, was in an elegiac mood yesterday as he contemplated his retirement as chairman of Barratt Developments, the group he founded, for the second time.

Never one to hide his light under a bushel, he said his greatest achievement in 44 years in the business was "assisting the explosion of home ownership which has taken place. Assisting the growth from 4 million families to 12 million families [which own their own home]. I have consistently strived to make that possible and the industry has consistently followed."

Despite her famous refusal to live in a Barratt home in Dulwich, South- east London, he also still clearly holds a candle for Margaret Thatcher. He quite understood her desire to live closer in to London, he said, but deep down she was like all women. "Men want a new car, but 90 per cent of women want a new house."

Even so, he retains his customary disdain for those who dabble in politics. Archie Norman, Lord Simon, Martin Taylor and the like who are prepared to sup with the Labour Government get short shrift. "It will all unfold. It will all end in tears." As for himself and politics: "I wouldn't waste my time."

Instead he will keep an eye on his old business as life president and will keep his hands full running three homes and a yacht in the south of France.

Hardly the country gent, Sir Lawrie insists he is an organiser and you can see his point. Twenty-five acres in Northumberland might be enough for one person, but his 4,500-acre Farndale Estate in the Yorkshire dales sounds like a full-time job in itself. Famous for its annual display of daffodils, Farndale boasts 22 let farms, 150 acres of woodland and a shoot with pheasants, grouse, duck and partridge.

Sir Lawrie has no time for those who make their pile and quit the country to live in a tax haven. "I pay my taxes in this country and enjoy the British way of life." And long may it be so.

Thames Water has appointed its managing director, Bill Alexander, as chief executive from 1 October. The company's chairman, former United Biscuits boss Sir Robert Clarke, will continue until his retirement in the spring of 1999. Sir Robert said: "There will be a gradual handover of my executive responsibilities over the next 18 months. It is anticipated that my successor as chairman will be non-executive." The company added that its strategy director, Bill Harper, would leave at the end of the year.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to Mike Hoffman, Thames Water's chief executive until March 1996? Mr Hoffman disappeared into obscurity with his payoff after eight years leading an international diversification strategy for the utility, which it abruptly put into reverse last year.

The former head of Water Services Association of England and Wales left Thames Water with a payoff of around pounds 500,000, plus options worth another pounds 500,000 and Thames Water shares worth pounds 400,000.

It appears Mr Hoffman is still busy with three non-executive directorships. He picked up one at Hornby, the train sets maker, in January, and he is a non exec at PowerGen and Anite Group, which changed its name from Cray Electronics Holdings.