Duke bucks trend to double his money

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The Independent Online
CHRIS BLACKHURST

The Duke of Westminster, one of Britain's richest men, has almost doubled his profits from renting out and developing properties in the past year.

Against the backdrop of a continuing depression in the national property market, the hefty increase is bound to fuel continuing controversy about landlords deriving substantial sums from their tenants.

Latest figures filed at Companies House by the Duke's private company, Grosvenor Estate Holdings, show a rise in annual profits from pounds 11m to pounds 20m. The accounts reveal an increase in "net rental and other income" from pounds 29m to pounds 36m.

The company's dividend pay-out was also up, from pounds 1m to pounds 1.8m, and the Duke's salary as chairman climbed from pounds 215,000 to pounds 247,000.

The Duke owns 300 acres of Mayfair and Belgravia in London's West End, one of the most valuable swathes of real estate in the world. He also owns a chunk of Vancouver in Canada and other properties in North America.

His wealth contrasts sharply with the world to which he introduced his two elder daughters on Christmas Day, when they accompanied him to a Liverpool drug rehabilitation centre. The visit was intended to make the girls aware of poverty and the risks of drug-taking.

Two years ago, the Duke resigned from the Conservative Party in protest at government plans to reform leasehold law. Under the proposed legislation, long-lease tenants with an original term of over 21 years could have required their landlords to sell them their freeholds. The Duke was outraged, denouncing the move as "legalised expropriation".

One of his arguments was that non-residents would be given the right to buy and overseas investors and property companies who held leases stood to gain large windfall profits.

He was appalled that Conservatives, whom his family had historically supported - he had succeeded his father in 1977 as chairman of his Chester constituency - should have contemplated interfering with contracts signed between two willing parties.

In the end, after heavy pressure from the Duke and other landed gentry, the legislation was heavily watered down. Leaseholders did not receive an automatic right to buy their property. From a possible 750,000 leaseholders covered by the original Bill, the neutered final Act means less than half could emerge as freeholders.

The Duke's anxiety to hang on to his properties can be explained by his latest accounts. Theproperty market elsewhere may be stagnant, but that is not the case in Mayfair and Belgravia.

Richard Crosthwaite, of estate agents Knight Frank Rutley, said: "Mayfair is very buoyant. Our prime residential price index has overtaken its peak of 1989."

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