London, Feb. 20: Not content with owning three mansions in Kensington Palace Gardens in Billionaires Row not far from Harrods in London, Lakshmi Mittal is planning to join Britains country set with the acquisition of a 340-acre estate in Surrey.
The property was bought for a relatively modest £5.25m but Mittal, who was listed as Britains richest man last year with a £22bn fortune, according to The Sunday Times, which reported the story today, intends spending another £25m on the development.
He wants to replace the existing not-very-attractive 1950s house on the estate with a new building that will be 100 per cent self-sufficient and eco-friendly.
Philip Beresford, the co- author of todays report, told The Telegraph that the purchase showed that the classic English Home Counties has a strong allure for not just the Russians but also for others of the global rich. Lakshmi Mittal is just the latest to be drawn there for its proximity to London and its rural aspect.
His keen interest in developing a fully green house that is energy self-sufficient will be a role model for other tycoons wanting to do the same, added Beresford, who compiles the Rich List every year for The Sunday Times and believes that Indian entrepreneurs are the best thing to have happened to Britain for a very long time.
An otherwise serious journalist, Beresford risked a rare joke: He will set the gold standard or should it be steel standard for others to follow. The cost, of course, is loose change for someone sitting on a near £20 billion fortune.
The idea is to grow enough trees to provide 100 tonnes of wood a year for the boilers. There will also be solar panels on giant roofs. In the summer, natural cool air from the estates wooded areas will be drawn into the courtyards in the mansion by underground steel tubes.
An anaerobic digester will break down sewage and wastewater, and reed beds will act as a final filter in their treatment. This is not so different from the system Prince Charles has adopted on his estate Highgrove in Gloucester, so Mittal would do well to get the heir to the throne on his side.
On paper there seems no reason why Mittal should not receive permission from Waverley Borough Council, the planning authority, to develop the estate known as Alderbrook Park. It is near an area of outstanding beauty near Cranleigh. The only problem, according to todays report, appears to be preservation of the badger setts on the estate.
Described as short-legged, heavy-set omnivores in the weasel family, some people think badgers are a nuisance and spread TB among cattle and hence proceed to gas them in their underground burrows (setts). Such action invariably provokes anger among those who want the animals protected.
The badgers dont pose a constraint to development but they are protected and developers need to demonstrate that they will not be harmed, commented a council official.
Living at one with nature, which is what Mittal and his wife, Usha, a keen gardener, are hoping to do, is very much part of the old Indian way of life, people back in the Mother Country would point out. The farmer who goes out to his field clutching his lota every morning might well reflect: Whats all the fuss about? I have been fertilising the vegetable patch all my life!
However, the plans Mittal has in mind are state of the art.
The steel tycoon has not so far commented on the Surrey Hills project but a statement issued on his behalf said: Reinstatement of a substantial country mansion on a grand scale is considered to present the best means of securing the long-term future of Alderbrook Park as a single, well-managed and high quality estate.
Mittal has retained architects Pringle Richards Sharratt, whose spokesman, Simon Hart, said: The whole thing is driven by the environmental concept. The living area is built around two internal courtyards with varying climates.
To which the Moghuls and the Rajputs in Rajasthan would say: Copycat.
The intriguing question is: when will Mittal, who must spend a good part of his life in his private jet attending to the needs of his vast steel empire, ever get the time to enjoy the dhaniya Usha will no doubt be planting in her high-tech kitchen garden?