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9 May, 2007 - 10:22 By Staff Reporter

Arsenal top gun hired to head Nirah freshwater project push

Nirah Holdings has recruited Arsenal Football Club’s managing director to lead the world-leading freshwater project to completion as Bedfordshire County Council nears a decision on outline planning permission.

Richard Stay from the council and a member of the Nirah board said he expected a decision in July when the council convenes a special meeting solely to discuss the Nirah project’s application.

If approved, current Nirah chairman Peter May will pass the reins to Keith Edelman who will immediately spearhead a raising of around £38 million of seed funding from institutional investors for the £400m fresh water sanctuary.

Edelman has demonstrated his ability to handle major brands and building projects at Arsenal with the construction – on time and on budget – of another £400m project, the Emirates Stadium, and a Nike sponsorship deal valued at £130m over 10 years.

May will become deputy chairman on receipt of outline planning and take responsibility for the formation of the Research Institute and the Conservation Trust.

He is also chairman of MacArthur & Co, the investment bank acting as financial adviser and investor in Nirah.

“I have known Keith nearly 20 years and we are delighted that someone of his extensive experience is joining the Nirah board,“ said May.

“Keith’s experience of leisure, brand development and the successful build of the Emirates Stadium will prove an invaluable asset.”

O & H Properties Ltd is also supporting the appointment, raising its investment in Nirah by another £125,000 and lending a further £375,000, subject to documentation and the consent of the Bedfordshire Consortium.

This additional funding will enable Nirah to revise its business plan under the direction of the board with Edelman at the helm.

“I am very excited about Nirah, which will be the world’s first conservation-leisure destination and a real bonus to the UK tourism industry,” said Edelman.

“I am pleased that Nirah has received strong support locally; historically, I have close connections with Bedfordshire, where it is being built. It will be a world first and a world class attraction.”

Nirah’s aim is to become a world-class, science-led project focusing on the conservation of endangered species and the non-invasive research of rare species; offered to the public as a dynamic and involving educational visitor experience.

It will combine visitor and research facilities including an aquatic theme park, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, two biotopes, gardens, a spa, hotels, a tropical diving centre, a research institute, and a science park.

Four miles south of Bedford and spread over 250 acres, it represents the biggest planning application ever to be submitted in Bedfordshire and will be the biggest tourist attraction in the county’s history, four times larger than Cornwall’s Eden Project with which it shares designers.

The project is expected to generate approximately 5,000 new jobs in Bedfordshire and has received considerable local community support despite some opposition from concerned animal rights groups.

Politically, there has been local cross-party support and over 12,500 signatures to support Nirah being located in Bedfordshire have been received by the county council who are determining the outline planning application.

If the outline planning decision is favourable, a detailed planning application will be made in spring 2009 and building could start 2009/2010, opening Easter 2012.

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