By Paul Peachey and Cahal Milmo
09 October 2002
The owners of a plot of land opposite the Houses of Parliament turned down his 24m bid in favour of an offer of less than half that to keep it within the health service. The decision followed months of wrangling over the site, known as Block Nine, a disused Victorian hospital building where the billionaire had planned to house the largest collection of Islamic art in the English-speaking world. The centre would have been the latest multimillion-pound addition to the string of cultural complexes on the South Bank of the Thames.
Officials fought a vigorous battle to keep the site in public hands for health services and training and secured the 1.8-acre site for 10.05m from King's College, part of London University.
The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims, announced last night that he would move the project to Toronto, Ontario. It was the second time he had tried to secure a site in London. Last year he put in a bid forthe Royal Army Medical College next to Tate Britain, but that was sold to the Chelsea College of Art.
King's College was warned by NHS officials that it risked losing more than 100m in annual funding for its medical school unless it agreed to sell the site to St Thomas' Hospital.
Hospital consultants had threatened to chain themselves to the railings if it was sold to the Aga Khan. A senior source at Guys and St Thomas' NHS Trust said the King's College decision had only come about after the university was "strong-armed" into accepting the sale of Block Nine to a public body. The source said: "This is a far-sighted decision in the public interest but it comes about after what was a long hard fight."
Dr Jonathan Michael, the chief executive of the trust, said: "The trust board, right from the beginning, said they believe this site ought to remain in public ownership."