'Threats' sour King's site sale

October 11, 2002

King's College London has sold its "block nine" site opposite the Houses of Parliament to St Thomas's Hospital for £10 million - despite a campaign that it viewed as blackmail, writes Alison Goddard.

A letter from the chief executive of South East London Strategic Health Authority and threats of a mass resignation from medical staff seriously irritated academics and members of the committee established to oversee the sale.

Within days of taking up the chief executive post, Duncan Selbie wrote to King's warning it that any failure to sell the land to the hospital would "seriously and irreparably" damage its prospects of "any future partnership" with the National Health Service.

Medical staff then joined a protest over fears that the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, would buy the site for more than twice what the NHS could afford.

But a college spokesman said that negotiations had been exclusively with the NHS since August.

The campaign so angered the committee that, at its meeting this week, it seriously considered not selling the land at all.

Principal Arthur Lucas said: "Despite frequent assertions that our preferred solution was to keep it within the family, a concerted campaign of misinformation and threats has been waged by the Save Block Nine campaign that strikes at the very heart of the relationship between the health service and the university."

The college eventually sold the land to the Guy's and St Thomas' Charitable Foundation, the principal beneficiary of which is the Guy's and St Thomas'

Hospital NHS Trust, as part of a package.

The NHS will take on some college staff while renting part of the space to the college. Joint plans will be developed to revitalise the St Thomas'

campus as an academic centre for research and teaching alongside a range of clinical healthcare services on site.

The Aga Khan said he now intended to build his proposed Islamic cultural centre in Toronto, Canada.

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