Philip Duffy and Sarah Bell of Duff & Phelps were appointed interim managers of Northern Powerhouse Developments on Sunday, having been appointed interim managers of chairman Gavin Woodhouse’s care homes businesses and planned Afan Valley Resort on Friday.
Northern Powerhouse Developments was founded by Woodhouse (pictured) to focus on investment in the leisure and tourism industry. As well as the under-development Afan Valley Adventure Resort in Cymmer, Port Talbot, the group’s hotels portfolio includes Bourton Hall in Warwickshire, Gilsland Hall in Cumbria and the Esplanade hotel in North Yorkshire.
The group operates a funding system whereby investors forward-buy rooms in the hotels, and this money is used to buy and develop the properties.
The appointment follows an application with the High Court in London by seven investors who had invested in the companies owned by Woodhouse. The appointment “will enable the interim managers to secure the assets of the company while enabling a detailed assessment and forensic investigation into where many millions of pounds have gone”, according to Duff & Phelps.
Duffy added: “The most recently filed accounts of the initial three companies [MBI Hawthorn Care, MBI Clifton Moor and Afan Valley] we were appointed to show them to all be insolvent on a balance sheet basis, so naturally creditor investors have been very concerned that they were not going to get their money back.
“Our appointment by the court over a weekend illustrates the seriousness of this case. It was absolutely essential we were appointed to act as interim managers on one of the main companies, Northern Powerhouse Developments, so that we could gain access to its financial history.”
The news follows an investigation by The Guardian and ITV into the finances of Woodhouse’s companies and the recent departure of two of Northern Powerhouse Development’s (NPD) advisers: HVS London chairman Russell Kett and former Center Parcs managing director Peter Moore.
Kett said that in February 2018 HVS issued a draft report on nine of NPD’s hotels for internal asset evaluation purposes only, however these figures were then used in NPD’s annual accounts, despite missing “crucial information”. He said “any figures used in any professional capacity cannot be endorsed by HVS”.
He added: “I am both disappointed and embarrassed to have become drawn into this matter, and concerned that my professional integrity – and that of HVS – is being called into question. I have therefore decided to terminate my relationship with NPD and to withdraw from my role as an adviser to the company.”
Former Best Western GB chief executive Richard Lewis resigned from his position as chief executive of Northern Powerhouse Developments Hotels on 20 December 2018 and left at the end of his notice period on 20 June.
A spokesperson for NPD said the group “strenuously denies any wrongdoing” and “will regroup, take advice from a range of specialists, including insolvency practitioners, and work to ensure its long term future”.
Regarding Moore’s departure the group said: “We accept and understand Peter’s decision, and our relationship remains amicable.
“Peter played an important role in NPD’s Afan Valley Adventure Resort project.
“However, Peter’s absence will not affect NPD going forward. We can assure all concerned that we remain as committed as ever to delivering the Afan Valley project in Wales as planned.
“We know what Neath Port Talbot Council require from us to secure full planning permission and we are on track to deliver what we have proposed.”
The group also described the Guardian/ITV investigation as “misleading and inaccurate” and said it “remains committed to delivering the projects we have promised our investors… We have up to 600 investors, the vast majority of which have not voiced concerns.
“The company operates a complex and unusual business model which we feel has not been accurately reflected by The Guardian and ITV.
“The allegations that have been put to us are that we have tried to misdirect people. That is simply not true. We have always tried to maintain contact and communications with investors.”