In the last month, the controversy over the Medi Parc site in Harefield has caused much debate around the village. Reporter DAN COOMBS looks at the company which owns the development site, and what its intentions for the land might be

BUILDING luxury apartments is the name of the game for Comer Homes, which is behind a number of impressive projects. But did you know the company was agonisingly close to completing a takeover of Aston Villa Football Club just five years ago?

Comer Homes was created in the 1980s after two brothers from County Galway made their fortune as developers after starting off as plasterers.

Brian and Luke Comer moved to England to try their luck in business and soon created a niche for themselves.

They specialised in converting old, clapped-out buildings - even old mental asylums - turning them into luxury apartments.

They are now believed to be based in Monaco, and for the last two years have been included in the Sunday Times Rich List as among the richest 1,500 people in Britain.

However, according to the figures, the recession saw them lose £5million of their personal wealth, which is now 'just' £45m, although they are believed to have more than £1billion in assets.

But it has not always been smooth sailing for their developments. One restoration project in Bristol has been mothballed - 21 years after failure to secure planning permission to refurbish a listed building.

More locally, in 2006, permission to build 90 apartments on the Harefield Grove site, in Rickmansworth Road, was rejected turned down on ecological grounds.

Among their successes are the Royal Masonic School for Boys in Bushey - used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films - which has been redeveloped into Royal Connaught Park, and a prestigious set of apartments is planned overlooking the Olympic 2012 sailing venue in Portsmouth.

Comer has also made an investment in Uganda, spending £300m on infrastructure projects, although this has been dogged by legal disputes over tenders.

In 2005, the racehorse-owning brothers were heavily linked with a takeover of Aston Villa, which ultimately fell through when they were outbid by American tycoon Randy Lerner.

Officers from the the Metropolitan Police wildlife crime unit arrived at

Medi Parc in Hill End Road on Monday last week, due to the suspected presence of great crested newts, a protected species.

Workmen had begun clearing trees and shrubs in preparation for building work. Comer Homes has intentions to build up to 80 apartments on the land.

The site was originally designated as a medical science park, and had become popular with dog walkers and wildlife groups.

Clearance work continued after the police visit. But what now for Medi Parc?

As more sightings of great crested newts come in, it has emerged that the government's wildlife and environment adviser, Natural England, is to resolve the dilemma.

Simon Coker, who works at Harefield Nursing Home in Hill End Road, said: "There are definitely great crested newts on the site.

"One walked in off the site into the nursing home last year and I've seen them walking along the street too."

Natural England is investigating the possible presence of great crested newts.

If the protected species is found, wildlife crime unit officers will again become involved, with possible enforcement action being taken.