Caltongate visionary in project rescue bid

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THE businessman who first launched his vision to revive a gap site in the heart of the Old Town more than a decade ago has emerged as the frontrunner to rescue the Caltongate development.

Ronald Persaud, who was a director of the joint venture firm that announced 100 million plans for the New Street site in 2001, is heading a consortium that wants to buy the troubled project and develop it in line with the existing consent.

He has linked up with South African investors and financiers for his bid to buy it back from Deloitte, the administrator of the collapsed London-based developer Mountgrange Capital that his former company sold the site to in 2004.

It is understood that the bid has won the support of Bank of Scotland, which is Mountgrange's top creditor and is thought to still be owed more than 70m.

It is the latest twist in the long-running attempts to create a major new mixed-use development on the Caltongate site.

Earlier this year, it had appeared that Canadian company Prism Developments was set to take control of the site but a deal failed to materialise.

One senior source close to the project said: "The administrators do appear to have the bank's permission to do a deal with a consortium fronted by Persaud but involving a South African investor and development company, and it involves a proposal to work with the council's assets.

"Talks are taking place and they want to develop it in line with the existing planning consent. It is as close to a deal as there has been. The last time it was close to a deal was with Prism, who were also looking at Donaldson's (College], but they had an eco-housing manufacturing proposal in the UK and decided instead to put their investment into that scheme."

Mr Persaud was director of New Street Partners, a joint venture between his then development firm Cuckfield Group and Dutch fund Sofam, when it unveiled its original plans for offices, flats, an arts and media centre and underground car park in 2001.

The firm won consent for its plans in 2002 but shelved the scheme because of a slump in demand for office space and sold it two years later to Mountgrange, which opted to pursue much bigger plans.

The city council approved Mountgrange's plans in 2008 after a lengthy planning process but it collapsed in 2009 following the economic downturn.

Existing planning consent at the Caltongate site allows for hundreds of homes, offices, a five-star hotel and conference centre, and a series of shops and cafes.

Stewart Taylor, a director of property firm CB Richard Ellis, said: "Of the stories we have heard in the last six months and the rest, the difference on this occasion is that this is an established developer with a track record.

"If you have got the right level of experience and funding then you can make it work. Unlike Prism, which came from nowhere, on this occasion the developer seems to have a bit more substance and that would give me a bit more confidence that something could happen."

A spokeswoman for Deloitte said: "The joint administrators are managing a confidential process with several interested parties. This process has not yet reached conclusion."

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