Al-Fayed to fill Highland estate with jet-set homes

Flush with the success of his property deals in London, Mohamed al-Fayed is planning to turn part of his massive estate in the Highlands of Scotland into £1m homes for the jet-set.

The owner of Harrods has raised £52m from the sale of the former depository opposite the Knightsbridge department store, which now has some of the most expensive flats in the country. Mr Fayed has proved a canny property speculator: he made £17.1m in 1997 from the sale of another former warehouse in Barnes, London, selling it to Berkeley Homes.

Now he wants to turn a 200-acre disused quarry on his estate into a luxury development of up to 65 £1m family homes, surrounded by landscaped grounds, water features and some of the most spectacular scenery in Britain.

Over the past three decades, Mr Fayed has invested more than £20m in the crumbling Balnagown estate overlooking the Cromarty Firth in Ross-shire which he bought in 1972. Then, all that was left of the ancient clan stronghold of the Ross family was 12 acres and a ruined stately home.

He has built the estate back up to 65,000 acres, renovated the pink 14th century castle, launched a tourist accommodation business, increased visitor numbers to the area and generated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the local economy

He intends to fill the demand for top-of-the range properties in the Highlands by creating new ones containing all the "Scottishness" of traditional Highland country houses but with all the energy saving and comforts of modern homes. "We believe there is a huge demand for that sort of house," Gordon Robertson, for the the Balnagown estate, said. "Farm houses up here tend to have farmers in them and farm houses in Surrey tend to have stockbrokers in them.

"Lots of people are moving up here and would love a traditional family home, or at least something large, but they can't get them because there are so few on the market that they get snapped up at silly prices."

A review of sales over the past year by estate agent Knight Frank found almost half of the 5,000 Scottish country houses sold last year went to English buyers. A further 1,000 homes, ranging in price from £750,000 to £1.5m went to overseas buyers, mainly Russians and Arabs.

"The people who buy these sorts of houses will have disposable incomes and they create jobs," said Mr Robertson who claimed each property would probably have five bedrooms and between one and five acres of land.

"What we are trying to do is something really magical and of benefit to the community. This is a brownfield site and we think it would make an ideal location for new homes. If we do realise this, the funds raised will go back into the estate. Mr Fayed does not take the money away and use it to support Fulham or something like that. Everything that is generated in Scotland stays in Scotland."

As part of the plan to benefit the property, and the nearby village of Kildary, the proposals also include the possible provision of more land elsewhere on the estate for the construction of affordable housing. Highland Council has a policy that 25 per cent of new housing developments should be classed as affordable homes.

Although the quarry has not been zoned by Highland Council for development the estate has appealed against the policy. The plans have the support of Richard Durham, local councillor for Kildary. "Potentially this is very good news for an old derelict quarry site," he said.

"In my experience of what Balnagown estate have done, it appears that when they do things they tend to do them in a very competent, imaginative and professional manner. There is the issue of council policy, but like so many council policies it is written with a very broad brush and doesn't necessarily take into account local individual circumstances. I never cease to be astounded by the demand for top end of the market properties around here."

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