Adventure resort plans parked
Adventure, anyone? Mr Gavin Lee Woodhouse’s dream of an adventure resort in the Afan Valley north of Port Talbot is parked on a shelf gathering dust while the planning department at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council awaits more information, and there is as yet no date for the planning committee to debate the outline application, submitted in June 2018.
The site at Pen y Bryn, Croeserw, covers 327 acres on which would be packed ski slopes, zip wires, high wire, an aqua park, equestrian centre, mountain biking track, BMX track and skate park. There would be a 100-bed hotel, spa, retail and restaurants plaza, the European HQ of the Bear Grylls Instructor’s Academy, and parking for 800 cars. And 600 lodges as holiday homes, over phases 1 and 2 of construction.
The resort would evidently not cater for visitors seeking rural tranquillity. The very large number of buildings and leisure constructions would create an urban ambiance, as would the hoped-for 275,000 customers annually.
Sales to “sophisticated and high net worth investors”
As West Wales News Review has reported previously, holiday lodges are already being sold off plan although there is no planning permission yet.
Select Resorts Ltd, Poole-based and owned by Pauline and Paolo Bonanni, is one agency advertising properties in the adventure resort from £82,000 (as a deposit) to £240,000. Payment reserves a plot and buys an order for a lodge from a manufacturer, although in the absence of planning permission the buyer would not be able to locate the lodge on the park.
The Elite Investor Club is another organisation selling future properties in the future park, seeking to attract “sophisticated and high net worth investors” wanting to “build and protect multi-generational wealth” and offers them 450 lodges for deposits starting at £82,000.
The financial sell sounds enticing: “….acquire a superb 2 bedroom lodge worth £205,000 with just an £82,000 deposit. The remainder of the purchase price is repaid from our rental income then, at the end of the 10 year term, we sell the lodge back to the developer for 125% of its full initial value. That means a payment of £256,250 and, when you add in the £45,100 in rental payments we also receive, plus 14 days a year of personal use worth over £20,000, the overall return on capital employed is a staggering 393%!
“The site already has planning permission for a project on a similar scale to Afan Valley Adventure Resort,” potential investors read. “The developer has submitted a revised proposal which has been validated by the local authority planning team who expect to make their decision during November. Given the existing planning permission and the high level of support in the Welsh Assembly for a project that will create 1,250 new jobs near Port Talbot, the developer is confident that permission will be granted.”
Elite Investor Club does flag up some risks. Planning permission might not be granted, but this would be “highly unlikely given the jobs being created and the wider economic impact”. The developer might go bust, but “their cash flow comes from lodge sales so they will always have money up front with which to build the infrastructure to support the development. No payments to investors will be required before 2020 so there is time for the park to become operational before the company needs to commence cash payouts. As a Plan B, banks and institutions would lend substantial sums against the value of the land once planning permission is obtained”. Tourists might not come, a risk regarded as minor “given the existing popularity of adventure tourism in Wales and the number of unique factors driving this project”, which the Club says include the involvement of Bear Grylls, the combination of extreme adventure experiences, year round skiing, a high-end branded spa and amazing countryside.
Maybe the park would flourish, but there was no decision “during November”. The last planning permission was for F&P Developments Ltd of Driffield, East Yorkshire, in 2010 for 240 lodges, a ski slope and a golf course, a lower-density project overall. F&P Developments did not go ahead because it proved impossible to raise sufficient investment funds.
As for lodge values, is a timber holiday lodge really worth over £200,000? Scandinavian-style timber lodges in the Cotswold Water Park can be bought for under £140,000 for a two-bedroom and for less than £165,000 for a three-bedroom version.
And there is still an empty site just one year before revenues are supposed to start flowing.
Mysing Capital takes a charge
Mr Gavin Lee Woodhouse heads the Afan Valley adventure park project through a chain of recently established companies.
Nineteen47 Ltd, chartered town planners and urban designers, submitted the outline planning application on behalf of Afan Valley Ltd, the sole director of which is Gavin Lee Woodhouse. Afan Valley Ltd, founded in April 2016 as Caerau Parc Ltd and recording a loss of £166,985 in the period from April 14th 2016 to March 31st 2017, is controlled by Northern Powerhouse Developments Adventure Resorts Ltd, set up in September 2016 with Gavin Lee Woodhouse as director, dormant at March 31st 2017 with assets of £1, and which is turn is owned by Active Resorts (UK) Ltd, dormant at March 31st 2017, when accounts show assets also of £1.
Active Resorts (UK) Ltd, also started in September 2016 and with Gavin Lee Woodhouse as the sole director, is owned by Northern Powerhouse Developments (Holdings) Ltd, another entity dating from September 2016, renamed from Bryn Lodge Ltd and owned by Gavin Lee Woodhouse. The last published accounts for Northern Powerhouse Developments (Holdings) Ltd, to March 31st 2017, are for a dormant company with assets of £1.
On December 5th 2018 a company called Mysing Capital Ltd took a charge over the assets of Gavin Lee Woodhouse personally and 15 of the companies in the Northern Powerhouse stable. The 15 are
- Belmont Hotel Ltd
- Bourton Spa Ltd
- Campus House Ltd
- Dunsmore Hall Management Ltd
- Giant Hospitality Ltd
- Gilsland Hall Ltd
- Imperial Crown Ltd
- Llandudno Bay Hotel & Spa Ltd
- MBI Smithy Bridge Ltd
- Northern Powerhouse Developments Ltd
- Northern Powerhouse Developments (Holdings) Ltd
- Northern Powerhouse Developments Hotels Ltd
- The Old Golf House Hotel Ltd
- The Old Golf House Hotel Management Ltd
- Woodhouse Family Ltd
Mysing Capital has three owners: Steven Turner, Robert James Coxon and Matthew John Ferguson, and at March 31st 2019 held shareholders’ funds of £1.476 million. All three have other directorships in common, including Mysing Care Ltd, which operates care homes and in the year to July 31st 2017 employed 187 people, turned over £4.58 million, and made a post-tax profit of £173,126.
Northern Powerhouse Developments has more than 15 hotels in its portfolio, including six in Wales, without counting the hotel and lodges intended for the Afan Valley. The first phase of the adventure park, with 400 lodges, has a published costing of £130 million, which seems very low, less than £400,000 per acre.
Climate change questions
The town planning consultancy Nineteen47 Ltd, based in York and owned by Jamie Pyper and Richard Walshaw, submitted the numerous documents required by Neath Port Talbot’s planning department, an expensive commitment costing £139,500 in fees.
A Climate Change Mitigation Report is one of the documents. This is important, given the Welsh government’s commitment to achieve an 80% fall in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990-1995 and 2050.
Yet the report has more omissions than forecasts. It considers emissions from buildings only, and not from the construction process, the manufacture or transport of materials, traffic, the operation of the leisure activities, or lighting.
Nineteen47 explains: “This is due to the challenges of attempting to estimate such emissions at outline application stage where limited or no details are available, but also because the proposed buildings are likely to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed development as well as the greatest scope for the reduction of such emissions.”
After confining the estimates to buildings in use, Nineteen47 suggests emissions would be 5,694.8 tonnes of CO2 a year before energy-saving measures, and 4,835.6 tonnes after, a potential reduction of 15.1%. Even 4,835.6 tonnes are a significant addition, and of course the figure ignores all other emissions pertaining to the site. Without knowing more about the overall total, it will be impossible to work out a plan to cut emissions elsewhere in Wales.
The Planning Statement, which is among the documents submitted, refers to the removal of 2,138 trees plus the possible removal of 654 more. We all know that trees absorb CO2, so removing up to 2,792 of them is the opposite of emissions mitigation. There would be new saplings planted, but they would be unlikely to compensate for the lost trees.
The applicants for Afan Valley Ltd seem to conclude that the prospect of hundreds of new jobs outweighs concerns about climate damage, but they appear rather coy about the actual business case for the development.
No business viability assessment
Mr Woodhouse’s Afan Valley Ltd has, via Nineteen47, told Neath Port Talbot Council that it is not going to submit a Business Viability Assessment. The firm is “not prepared to allow such sensitive information to be made available in the public domain. We do not consider that a request for the submission of these documents can be considered reasonably necessary in relation to either the validation or determination of the application”.
The reason, apart from a wish for complete confidentiality, is the newness and uniqueness of the “leisure brand”, i.e. there is no other UK resort with exactly the same combination of accommodation and attractions. This argument has the weakness that virtually every themed resort has to claim unique features, to encourage visitors to part with their cash.
No Business Viability Assessment, but there is a Sustainability Appraisal document, which mentions a wage bill of £12.97 million for 970 jobs in phase 1 of the park, which works out at an average of £13,371 each – bargain basement more than high end.
Beverly Hills connection
In 2018 Afan Valley Ltd announced it has “joined forces” with Landal Green Parks Ltd to develop the resort. The Landal Green Parks organisation, founded in the Netherlands in 1954, runs more than 80 resort parks catering for 2.8 million guests annually.
The chain of companies behind Landal Green Parks Ltd stretches all the way to Beverly Hills, California, to Tom Tewfic Gores and Platinum Equity Advisors Llc, which he founded and which “specialises in closing complex acquisitions across a diverse range of industries”.
The chain from Landal to Tom Tewfic Gores includes Holiday Cottages Group Ltd; the well-known UK brand Hoseasons Holidays Ltd; Compass Bidco Ii Ltd; and Compass Iv Ltd.
So, ultimately, Gavin Lee Woodhouse has a potentially very valuable connection with Tom Tewfic Gores and global acquisitions expertise.
Global investors would no doubt expect Afan Valley Adventure Resort to yield maximum returns, probably without deep considerations for damage to the global climate, or to the local environment. It will be about money brought into the valley and quickly extracted from it, much more than about money circulating within the communities of the valley to build prosperity.
That projected average salary of £13,371 is, surely, a stark indicator that rewards to workers would be tightly constrained.
When, and if, the plans are dusted down and taken off the shelf, Neath Port Talbot Council will have to make a very complicated decision, with the impacts likely to last for decades.