The US property investment group Starwood Capital has built up a 3% stake in the UK leisure and retail combine Whitbread, according to a report in The Sunday Times, leading to speculation that it is set to launch a takeover bid for the group.

The report suggested that Starwood's founder and chief executive, Barry Sternlicht, has acquired almost 3% of Whitbread during the past few weeks. If Starwood's stake were to reach 3%, it would be required to declare an interest.

Starwood has been linked with a move for Whitbread since July.  Apax Partners, the global private equity group, has also been suggested as a possible bidder for the leisure concern which owns the coffee bar chain Costa Coffee.