(P.43) Late entrant leads race for Center Parcs - by Dominic Walsh

Times 10 August 2000

The bidding for Center Parcs, the chain of holiday villages put up for sale in February by Scottish & Newcastle, looks about to take a new twist, with London & Regional Properties set to emerge as a late winner with an offer of just under £700 million.

The privately owned group, which is headed by Ian Livingstone, could be named as preferred bidder as early as today or tomorrow &emdash; just days after Deutsche Bank's private equity arm, in partnership with Pierre & Vacances of France, looked to have emerged triumphant with a similar offer.

Although neither L&R nor S&N would comment last night, it is understood that S&N's decision to go with L&R rather than Deutsche Bank is not based solely on price. It is not known whether L&R has an operator lined up to run Center Parcs, although one option would be to retain the current management.

But last night Gerard Bremond, head of Pierre & Vacances, insisted that the matter was not yet decided. He confirmed that he had struck an agreement with Deutsche Bank to make a joint bid for Center Parcs.

"We have made a preliminary offer that allows for certain adjustments. The definitive offers have not yet been finalised," he said. But he cautioned that Center Parcs was "just one of the numerous dossiers we are studying", adding that it was also looking at possible projects in Italy and Spain that were at least as important a priority for the firm as Center Parcs.

A victory for L&R would crown a busy period for the group, which is also one of two short listed bidders for the sale and leaseback of Abbey National's property portfolio. L&R is also behind a controversial leisure development planned in Crystal Palace. Last year it funded the £190 million purchase of the property portfolio of TBI, the airports operator.

S&N's shares gained 6p to 479p.

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