BLACKHURST'S DIARY: In which our diarist watches John Whittaker square up to the Yorkist nimbies, tracks Philip Beresford into richer pastures and predicts a Grosvenor flotation

BLACKHURST'S DIARY: In which our diarist watches John Whittaker square up to the Yorkist nimbies, tracks Philip Beresford into richer pastures and predicts a Grosvenor flotation - DOGFIGHT OVER DONCASTER

by CHRIS BLACKHURST, deputy editor of The Express
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Stand by for a new War of the Roses.This time, no royal crowns are at stake - just the egos of three of Britain's most successful businessmen.

Battle has been joined over an old RAF air base near Doncaster in South Yorkshire. John Whittaker of Peel Holdings, the property-to-airports group, is leading an audacious Lancastrian assault on 'God's country'. He plans to turn the old bomber station into a new international airport.

Whittaker, though, has reckoned without two Yorkshiremen in the shape of Lord Kirkham, founder of the DFS furniture group, and Kevin McDonald, the Polypipe plastic piping king. The pair are displaying the sort of nimbyism that any self-respecting Home Counties dweller would recognise, and have teamed up with local activists to fight Whittaker.

Bizarrely, given the naked capitalism of the Yorkshire duo and Kirkham's strong personal links with the Tories - he bankrolled the party for a period - the Doncaster alliance contains a smattering of former Communists.

Kirkham and McDonald's cash is funding a PR campaign and a surveyor to argue the case against Whittaker. But they should be warned. There is no-one better to fight the Red Rose's cause than Whittaker. He showed extraordinary tenacity in capturing the Manchester Ship Canal Company in the 1980s and later fought all the way to the Lords to gain planning consent for his Trafford Park shopping centre. Seeing off a couple of rich tykes may prove easy by comparison.


Are some of the City's biggest names regularly breaking the law? If you've ever wondered why your pukkah accountants, lawyers and banks employ so many Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans, it is because they often come here on two-year visas. But the permits are granted on the strict understanding that holders work no more than 20 hours a week and confine themselves to menial jobs. They are barred from working in a 'career-enhancement profession'.

City workers and their employers are turning a blind eye to the law.

A South African magazine article recently advised: 'If you are entering the UK on a two-year working holiday visa, be prepared for a grilling.

Immigration officials want to hear that you are here mainly for a holiday and to travel. Totally downplay any plans to work; say 'casual work' and 'part time' as often as possible.'

But some firms are waking up to the practice. One has sacked five workers after discovering they were being employed illegally. For the rest, though, the army of Commonwealth recruits is an important source of manpower.

Funny that amid the furore about bogus asylum seekers, nothing has been said about the well turned-out illegal immigrants in the City. Could it be because they are white, beer-drinking, cricket and rugger-playing types?


Glasnost seems to have arrived in the higher reaches of Britain's usually secretive aristocracy. After years of extremely low-key dealings, Grosvenor Estates, the family business of the Duke of Westminster, has suddenly gone very public. Its 1999 accounts have come out packaged in a glossy brochure that looks exactly like the annual report of a publicly quoted company. The Duke has made another change: shortening the timeframe for reporting its results to bring the company into line with listed businesses.

With Grosvenor keen to find overseas partners and taking stakes in quoted British property groups, all this looks like the actions of a business preparing for flotation. The City can hardly wait. Grosvenor, which owns much of Mayfair plus estates in Australia, Canada and Europe, carries a price tag of pounds 2 billion and rising. But glasnost does have its limits.

Unlike quoted companies, Grosvenor does not detail directors' pay packages - yet.


As if the annual diet of rankings of the rich from newspapers was not enough - this year there were four - Britain may be about to have its first professor of wealth studies. Exeter University is considering offering a chair to one of its alumni, Dr Philip Beresford, producer of the Sunday Times Rich List and a former editor of MT.

The professorship would come under the auspices of a new Wealth Institute, part of the Economics faculty. Likely topics to be covered would include the sociology of wealth, class and wealth, how to protect wealth, the creation of wealth, succession, dynasties and how to track the rich, including tax havens. Beresford, who is penning a book on how to become a millionaire, believes the post would silence cynics who sneer at his survey and boost its standing. 'The rich are vitally important in any healthy economy and it is critical we understand where they come from,' he says.

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