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Reality TV star plans Arab student housing in UK

Irish entrepreneur Philip Marley is hoping to raise 145 million from Middle Eastern investors to build student housing schemes exclusively for Arab students in London.

An Irish entrepreneur and reality TV star is hoping to raise 145 million (Dh793.8m) from Middle Eastern investors to build student housing schemes exclusively for Arab students in London.

Philip Marley, a larger-than-life businessman who made a 10m (Dh47.7m) fortune building student accommodation in the United Kingdom and Ireland before the property crash, says he already has 65m in backing from a Bahraini bank to build his first 400-bed Arab-only student campus off Herbal Hill in the City of London.

The entrepreneur, who hit the headlines when his relationship with the US TV show Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills star Dana Wilkey went public and is currently filming his own reality show Rich and Ditched with her, was in Dubai last week hoping to raise another 80m from investment banks and sovereign wealth funds in the Arabian Gulf.

Mr Marley, who was recently reported by the UK press to be in dispute with both the IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, over a 12m loan used to buy rental property in Britain and separately with previous co-investors Maven Capital Partners over an 800,000 security bond, says he hopes to build two or three Arab student campuses across the capital.

"Arab investors tend to get into London residential property late and pay top dollar for it, they overpay," Mr Marley told The National. "Our partners in Bahrain want to get into London at the right level and to do that you have to drill down and get in at an early stage - at the development stage.

"There is a lot of Middle Eastern money going to the UK in these property investments and never coming back. This is a way for Arab investors to invest in their own kids and get a return which is most appropriate."

After a chequered early career that included managing a male stripper group called the Celtic Knights, the entrepreneur set up the housing developer Ely Property Group in 2003. A year later he floated it on the London Stock Exchange for 30m. He is basing the Arab-only student housing concept on a 150-bed student housing development in Portsmouth that he has owned since 2007 and for which students each pay about 150 per week in rent. In London he estimates rents per room could be as much as 250 per week.

"In Portsmouth it just happened by accident," Mr Marley said. "Some Saudi students came in and rented it and I can honestly say that it has been the least hassle property investment I have ever made."

He added that the new student campuses would include prayer facilities and Arabic television channels. However, when asked whether the campuses would allow alcohol or would be segregated into separate men's and women's areas, Mr Marley said he thought that would be "unlikely" but that the first project was "still in the design stage".

Mr Marley hopes to submit a planning application for his first six-storey scheme within two months.

lbarnard@thenational.ae

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