Vardon fishes at GLC site

VARDON, the leisure company, and First Leisure are negotiating to open a Sea Life centre at County Hall, the former Greater London Council headquarters on the south bank of the Thames in London.

County Hall is to be redeveloped into a 570-bedroom hotel and leisure complex. Richard Branson's Virgin group said on Monday it was taking over redevelopment and management of County Hall in partnership with Shirayama Shokusan, the Japanese company that paid pounds 65m for the site last year.

John Conlan, chief executive of First Leisure, which jointly built a Sea Life centre with Vardon in Blackpool three years ago, said: 'We have been looking to have a major aquarium in London. Negotiations are at a fairly advanced stage at County Hall.'

Vardon, owner of the Sea Life concept, said: 'For some time it's been an objective to build the largest Sea Life in the UK. The planned method is for a joint venture with First Leisure.'

Leisure industry observers said they would not be surprised if the two companies were aiming to develop up to 60,000 sq ft.

First Leisure, which also yesterday issued an update on trading, declined to comment on whether it would bid to run other leisure facilities planned for County Hall.

Analysts left forecasts of profits of pounds 36m unchanged, despite two surprises in the trading statement, which analysts said cancelled each other. An underlying 11 per cent rise in disco turnover for the first half, which ends this month, was better than expected, but turnover in sports, mainly tenpin bowling, was down by a higher-than-anticipated 10 per cent.

Shares in the company rose 2p to 318p.