Source close to 3i plays down rumours of a sell off of its 40% stake in the architecture practice

A source close to 3i has played down rumours that the private equity firm is poised to sell its 40% stake in Foster + Partners after weekend press reports suggested it was looking for a buyer.

“Stories of its impending sale are wide of the mark,” the source said. “What it is doing, as any private equity investor would after three years, is starting to explore its options.”

When 3i invested in the practice in 2007 it was valued at about £300m, but since then staff numbers and revenues have fallen.

Foster + Partners posted a loss of £18.5m for the 12 months to the end of April 2010 on the back of continuing writedowns, interest payments and restructuring charges.

The loss came after an interest bill of £40m on net debt of £319m, some of which was used to fund 3i’s purchase.

Turnover at the practice fell 13% to £134m, down from £154m for the same period last year, as the global financial crisis continued to affect high-profile projects around the world.

Despite the fact that staff levels fell below 1,000 from more than 1,200 in 2009, Norman Foster was awarded a £90,000 rise last year, boosting his pay from £1.7m to £1.8m.

The accounts show that more than 90% of Foster + Partners’ work is commissioned outside the UK.