UK property firm wins "meddling prince" housing row

Fri Jun 25, 2010 9:42am EDT
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By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A British property company will seek damages after a court ruled on Friday that its Qatari partner in a luxury London housing scheme breached a contract by bowing to pressure from Prince Charles to abandon their plans.

Charles, the heir-to-the-throne and a longstanding critic of modern architecture, wrote privately to Qatar's prime minister last year to protest about the "brutalist" contemporary design.

London's High Court said Qatari Diar, a property firm linked to the Gulf state's royal family, broke a clause in an agreement with CPC Group when it then shelved its proposals.

Charles' intervention angered many architects, who branded him a "meddling prince," and raised questions about his constitutional position. British royals have only symbolic power and usually steer clear of contentious issues.

In a 98-page ruling, judge Geoffrey Vos said the leaking of the comments had left both sides "in a very difficult position."

"His intervention was, no doubt, unexpected and unwelcome. And the effects were, I suspect, exacerbated by the inevitable publicity which followed," the judge wrote.

The Qatari firm's decision to withdraw its application may have broken their agreement, but it was "acting as best it could" in a difficult situation, the judge added.

"It could not do nothing," he said. "It was, in modern parlance, caught between a rock and a hard place."   Continued...