pounds 131m payout for two car park chiefs

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Two publicity-shy entrepreneural pensioners yesterday saw their personal wealth boosted by a combined pounds 131m as the car park company they founded in the aftermath of the Second World War made a pounds 183m one-off payout to shareholders.

Sir Donald Gosling, 66, and Ronald Hobson,74, founded National Parking Corporation in 1949, when they spotted the chance to convert London bomb sites into car parks. They now own 70 per cent of the company, with the rest in the hands of City institutions.

NPC said it was making the payout, in the form a special dividend, to let shareholders realise some of the value of their stake following the failure last year of an attempt to sell the company to a management buy- in team.

NPC also announced that it made pre-tax profit of pounds 47.9m for the year to the end of March, down slightly on pounds 50.4m made in the previous year.

However this year's figure includes an exceptional charge of pounds 8m to buy back shares allocated to the company's share option scheme.The pounds 8m will be shared out between 300 NPC staff, an average of pounds 26,666 each.

The company said it would be seeking a stock market listing within the next four years.

There are no plans to list the company on the Stock Exchange's new Alternative Investment Market, which is a replacement for the rule 4.2 market, due to close in September, in which NPC's shares have been traded. The company's shares will in future be traded privately.

In the early days the company charged 4p for a day's parking in central London. Today it operates over 600 car parks around the country.

The two men are now looking to retire from the business, and the payments yesterday can be seen as an advance on the proceeds that would come to them whenever the business is sold.

They have equal shares of 35 per cent in the business so they will make pounds 65m each. Some of Sir Donald's stake has been transferred to a family trust.

The two men are already extremely rich. Sir Donald's personal wealth is in the region of pounds 200m.

A plan to sell the business to a management buy-in team fell through when the buyers decided they could not meet the pounds 650m that the two men were looking for.

Last summer, Sir Donald hit the headlines when he proposed that a consortium of businessmen chip in to buy a replacement for the royal yacht, Britannia, which is to be decommissioned in 1997. Sir Donald pledged pounds 5m.

His nautical links go back to the Second World War, when he was a signaller on a war ship. He now operates a 245 foot yacht called Leander, after HMS Leander his war time ship.