The boss of a leading property and hotel company was yesterday said to be favourite to win the race for control of leisure group De Vere.
Richard Balfour-Lynn, who is the chief executive of Hotel du Vin owner Marylebone Warwick Balfour, is thought to have edged ahead of American hotels operator Starwood and the private equity house Permira.
Mr Balfour-Lynn's bid for De Vere - the operator of 19 hotels including The Belfry golf and hotel complex in the West Midlands - is being made through his privately-owned vehicle Alternative Hotels Group.
He is said to have the support of Halifax Bank of Scotland, which worked with Mr Balfour-Lynn and other investors on the #325 million takeover of Rentokil Initial's conference venues business in November.
According to reports yesterday, Mr Balfour-Lynn is prepared to offer between 820p and 830p a share, valuing the group at almost #700 million.
Shares are currently at 799.5p, but reports said recent falls for the stock market and the uncertain outlook for the leisure industry meant the offer was likely to come in below previous market expectations.
Mr Balfour-Lynn formed Warwick Balfour Properties, a property development and investment company, in 1982 before co-founding MWB in 1994.
Reports said the two other bidders in the frame for De Vere were Permira, which has teamed up with property firm Delancey, and Starwood, which owns the Sheraton and Le Meridien brands. It also reported that US venture capital group Blackstone had withdrawn from the auction.
De Vere also has a string of Village leisure hotels, the health and fitness brand Greens and the gin maker G&J Greenall.