Financial Times: "Qatar looks to back UK high-speed train plan"

"The Qatari royal family has told British ministers it wants to invest heavily in regeneration projects being planned around the hubs of the new HS2 high-speed rail line, with billions of pounds of investment being discussed.

"The emir of Qatar visited the UK last month and told the prime minister he wanted to take advantage of new projects that have sprung up as a result of the £50bn rail venture, which will run from London to Birmingham, then Leeds and Manchester.

"While talks are at an early stage, both sides are keen to do a deal, according to figures in Downing Street, the Treasury and the Qatari royal family. Such an agreement would boost David Cameron’s attempts to improve Britain’s infrastructure using private and international money.

"According to Qatari officials, the potential investment was one of the main topics of discussion during the emir’s visit, and Doha is now waiting for further information from the UK government.

"Documents released by the Cabinet Office last month show how much attention the prime minister has given to attracting foreign investment into the UK. The papers reveal that in the first three months of this year, Mr Cameron organised three Downing Street meetings with external investors, including the Canada Pension Plan, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

"That strategy has begun paying off in the past few months. Li Keqiang met Mr Cameron in Beijing last year, after which the Chinese premier singled out high-speed rail and nuclear power as two key large-scale schemes in which his country is keen to put money.

"The Qataris are also trying to take over Songbird Estates, the group that owns London’s Canary Wharf, to add to other holdings in London, including Harrods and Chelsea Barracks.

"The gas-rich Gulf state also opened talks with the Treasury last year to invest up to £10bn into infrastructure projects such as energy plants, transport schemes or the Thames “super-sewer” under London.

"According to officials in the Downing Street meeting, Mr Cameron and the emir very briefly discussed how the Qatari sovereign wealth fund might put money into HS2 and British officials had more detailed discussions with their Qatari counterparts. While the UK government is planning to fund the costs of the railway line itself, trade officials are keen for outside investors to help fund renovation projects at the termini.

"People close to the project said the Qataris appeared to be particularly interested in investing in the renovation planned in central Birmingham, where one of the biggest new stations in Britain in a century will be built at Curzon Street.

"Developers plan to build 2,000 new homes and 600,000 square metres of office space around the new Birmingham station, with the aim of transforming the area using a similar model to London’s King’s Cross station redevelopment.

"There are also plans for a major redevelopment at Old Oak Common in west London, where HS2 will meet Crossrail, described by some as the “Canary Wharf of the west.”

"At the same time HS2 is drawing up plans to create a new company called Regenco in partnership with London and Continental Railways to buy up land around the stations on the route.

"The aim of the new body is to oversee regeneration work along the line, with the potential for thousands of new homes and new commercial real estate.

"Officials believe that Qatar could be persuaded to invest alongside Regenco in some of these schemes. 'We think it’s right up their street,' one said."

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