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Bookie's £1B Bet Against The Regions


Fred Done, the bookmaker behind the Warrington-based Betfred chain, is gambling on London outpacing the regions in the post-pandemic recovery.

Done’s calculation is that a resurgence of South East Asian interest will turbocharge the capital’s recovery.

The bookmaker’s property business, Salboy, has acquired a site in Chelsea for a £40M residential development. It forms the first small step in a rapid expansion to a £1B development portfolio, including one mystery site with a capital value as high as £500M. Salboy is also exploring development in the south west of England.

The Salboy expansion from its Manchester heartlands indicates a shift in post-pandemic sentiment. The bet is that London will deliver higher and faster returns than many regional markets thanks to a return of global interest.

“I wouldn’t say Manchester will plateau but it will be interesting to see what happens," Salboy co-founder and Chief Executive Simon Ismail told Place North West. "The signals are it will continue to grow, thanks to the tech sector and the student population, but we are going into London because we want to be a more countrywide developer, and we want growth. We are looking at three sites, and the portfolio will easily top £1B.” 

Salboy, backed by Betfred billionaire Fred Done, has been a silent investor in several London developments. Until now it has not been a developer in its own right.

“We see London as a key part of our future strategy,” Ismail said. The emphasis will be on high-end build-for-sale, with an eye to investment and migration into London from South East Asia.

"The first London scheme will be a private gated scheme in Chelsea, and our aim is to be in that higher-end bracket, very much so. We don't want to replicate One Hyde Park [the Candy brothers' development which has served as an emblem of high-end development], schemes have to make sense in the appraisal, but they also have to excite us and take the business further.

“We don’t want to be an institutional landlord and don’t need to sell the schemes to de-risk projects,” Ismail said, explaining the preference for build-to-sell apartments. 

Done and Ismail are not abandoning Manchester, where current projects include Castle Irwell, a new urban village of 500 homes set around a 3-acre park; and Viadux, a 40-storey residential tower. But there is a definite sense of a business sharpening its focus.  

Salboy's London debut site is at Cluny Mews, near Philbeach Gardens, Chelsea. The plot has planning permission for 35 private new-build apartments with an additional 7.5K SF of office space at ground-floor level.