Prince Charles's role in Chelsea barrack planning row 'unwelcome'

Prince of Wales's intervention in the £3bn Chelsea barracks redevelopment placed the rulers of Qatar, in 'an impossible position'

A high court judge today dealt an unprecedented blow to the Prince of Wales's ability to interfere in public life by describing his opposition to a major planning application in London as "unexpected and unwelcome".

Mr Justice Vos ruled that Charles's intervention in plans for the £3bn Chelsea barracks redevelopment in the capital placed the rulers of Qatar, who owned the site, in "an impossible position" and had an impact on the views of the elected politicians charged with deciding on the plans' merits.

In a historic judgment, Vos found that Qatari Diar, a property development company wholly owned by Qatar's royal family, changed its plans for the prime London site as a result of the prince's direct complaint to the emir that he did not like the designs by the firm of Lord Rogers, a leading modernist architect with whom he has clashed on several occasions.

Charles had voiced opposition to the plan for more than 500 homes on the former Ministry of Defence site at a teatime meeting with the emir at Clarence House last spring, and also wrote to the prime minister of Qatar attacking the designs as part of a "gigantic experiment with the very soul of our capital city". He said it should be scrapped in favour of something more "old-fashioned" like the buildings in "Bath or 18th-century Edinburgh".

The judge ruled that by withdrawing the application shortly after his intervention, Qatari Diar breached its contract with co-developer CPC Group, owned by Monaco-based businessman Christian Candy, clearing the way for a claim for costs and damages.

However Vos did not support Candy's claim for an early payout of £68.5m, which would have come if planning consent had been granted. He said that Qatari Diar was "caught between a rock and a hard place" as a result of Prince Charles's impassioned demands for an alternative scheme and had been "doing the best it could in difficult circumstances" involving "diplomatic and political implications" to continue the planning process as normal.

The judgment exposed the prince's powerful influence and how he was prepared to go to great lengths to lobby not only fellow royals but also to consider putting pressure on the mayor, Westminister city council and the media to ensure that the scheme would never be built.

Vos said both Qatari Diar and CPC Group "were faced with a very difficult position once the Prince of Wales intervened in the planning process in March 2009". He said Qatari Diar executives had to try to "calm the political waters and prevent royal feathers being further ruffled".

"Qatari Diar was in an impossible position," Vos said. "It could not pretend that the Prince of Wales had not written to its chairman. It could not do nothing. It was, in modern parlance, caught between a rock and a hard place. If it did nothing, it would have risked exacerbating the position with the Prince of Wales, thereby risking that he might take his opposition further by contacting the mayor, the WCC or even the press."

The case has raised serious questions over whether the prince overstepped his constitutional role by becoming involved in a democratic planning process, and today Ruth Reed, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said Charles's actions had been "an abuse of privileged position" and had "failed to engage with the planning process entirely openly and appropriately".

"The UK has a democratic and properly constituted planning process: any citizen in this country is able to register their objections to proposed buildings with the appropriate local authority," she said. "The message that this affair sends to overseas investors considering working on UK projects is very concerning."

In his 98-page judgment, Vos said changes were already being negotiated on the scheme through the mayor's office when the prince became involved because Boris Johnson objected to the repetitive design in one area, but not because he objected to its overall modernist premise. "This process was interrupted before it had reached its natural conclusion," he said.

Clarence House declined to comment today. The prince's spokesman, Paddy Harverson, has previously said: "The prince has every right to express an opinion privately, which he does with passion, because he cares."

Vos said: "I formed the clear view that the intervention of the Prince of Wales was immediately recognised … as raising a serious political issue that needed to be dealt with at the highest level."

He also ruled that even after the Qataris had decided to pursue an alternative scheme, the prince's position continued to have an "impact on the views of the officers and politicians (but primarily the latter) at Westminster city council and the Greater London authority".

The judge said what might have been regarded as a relatively simple dispute "appeared at times to be all-out war". Both sides made "overblown" allegations of bad faith. He asked them to try to work together to achieve planning consent, but that seemed a dim prospect. A Qatari Diar statement said "CPC's claims have been a complete waste of time" and that it had lost "a future business relationship with QD as a result of its conduct".

A new design is being drawn up by Dixon Jones, architects of the Royal Opera House, fellow architects Squire & Partners, and Kim Wilkie, a landscape designer who has proposed a market garden, beehives and nut trees. Ben Bolgar, senior design director at the prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, sat on the judging panel and Prince Charles continues to be briefed on the design. Plans are due to be submitted to Westminster council next month.


Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chelsea barracks trial shines light on Prince Charles's interference
Case exposes secret strategies used by 'meddling prince' to intervene in public affairs

Robert Booth

25, Jun, 2010 @4:05 PM

Article image
Prince Charles lobbied City Hall over Chelsea site, emails reveal

Disclosure raises questions over whether the prince abused his constitutional position

Robert Booth

17, Jun, 2010 @9:00 PM

Article image
Prince Charles: I defend ordinary people against property developers
Prince's private secretary claims he opposed modernist design out of duty to make ordinary people's views heard

Robert Booth

29, Jun, 2010 @5:34 PM

Article image
Controversial Chelsea Barracks scheme on hold as UK economy stalls
Qatari Diar, emirate's property arm, puts London's £3bn Chelsea Barracks project under review amid doubts over plan's viability

Robert Booth

28, Jan, 2013 @4:22 PM

Article image
Prince Charles accused of pressurising Qatari royal family over residential development

Royal letter allegedly marked opening salvo in campaign that led to scrapping of Chelsea Barracks plan, high court hears

Robert Booth

17, May, 2010 @10:34 PM

Article image
Prince Charles did influence Chelsea Barracks scheme | Letters from Richard Rogers and Kate Travers
Letters: As was subsequently set out in court, it was Prince Charles’s direct intervention that led the Qataris to pull the plug


15, May, 2015 @5:25 PM

Article image
The Prince of Wales, the Emir of Qatar and the £81m Chelsea Barracks lawsuit

Property tycoons take dispute over prince's alleged torpedoing of £3bn Richard Rogers residential development to high court

Karen McVeigh

16, May, 2010 @5:21 PM

Article image
Prince Charles's meddling in planning 'unconstitutional', says Richard Rogers

Architect claims Prince Charles persuaded the Qatari royal family to drop his designs

Robert Booth

15, Jun, 2009 @8:46 PM

Article image
Prince Charles's threat to quit National Trust in design dispute

Prince threatened to withdraw patronage unless designs were altered to suit his taste, Guardian learns

Robert Booth

17, Aug, 2009 @8:53 PM

Article image
How Prince Charles triggered an £81m headache for the emir of Qatar
A court hears how Doha feared 'serious consequences' after the prince objected to Richard Rogers' designs on the site of the former Chelsea barracks

Robert Booth

21, May, 2010 @7:26 PM