The Welsh Labour Government’s First Minister – Carwyn Jones – has made a public apology in the Welsh Assembly today following the loss of “tens of millions” of taxpayers’ money in the mis-managed sale of several tracts of publicly-owned land .
The First Minister said the deal – negotiated on behalf of the Welsh Government by a so-called “arms length” body called the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales – “fell well below the standards we would expect … and for that we are sorry”. Carwyn Jones told AMs in a plenary session “the concept was good but the delivery was flawed”.
Some 18 tracts of public land were included in a package of sites put up for sale – which had originally included two plots in the Penarth area – at Cogan Hall Farm and Anchor Way in the Penarth Marina residential area.
The Public Accounts Committee investigated the way in which many of the plots were sold to a Guernsey-based company called “South Wales Land Developments” – a company formed to take forward the initial offer made by GST Investments (also incorporated in Guernsey). GST is administered and controlled by Barclays Wealth on behalf of Sir Stanley Thomas OBE, the well-known South Wales entrepreneur.
The accounts committee said the land had been “undervalued” – a fact underlined when South Wales Land Developments subsequently sold-on a number of the sites they had bought at a profit. One site in Lisvane which had been bought for a knock-down price of £1,800,000 was found to have a potential market value of £39,000,000.
There were also investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, the Welsh Government, Deloitte and the Wales Audit Office. Assembly members say the land should have been sold off as individual sites and a fuller valuation would have produced far better results for taxpayers .
COGAN HALL FARM: The official report stated that part of Cogan Hall Farm, Penarth, was given a valuation of only £50,000 by the Investment Manager hired by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (a company called Lambert Smith Hampton Group Limited) but was valued by property company King Sturge at £350,000, whereas the District Valuer provided a valuation for the whole of the Cogan Hall site of £200,000. In November 2010 however an offer of £185,000 was received by The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales for part of the site and was accepted . The sale was completed in November 2011. The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW) retained the remainder of the site which was not included in the sale.
ANCHOR WAY : Anchor Way, Penarth was to have been included in the sale of a package of sites to GST Investments but was removed from the sale (which was eventually concluded at a reduced total price) . Anchor Way had been valued by property experts King Sturge at £100,000 but the report says it was taken out of the deal because its value as a “ransom strip” no longer applied. Anchor Way was said to be “of no value due to changes in planning status.”. The site was retained in the ownership of the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW).
The future of the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales is now in doubt.