By Chris Lang
Property Frontiers is an investment company based in Oxford. Ray Withers, the founder and director of the company says, “I founded Property Frontiers back in 2004 due to the fact I personally had a bad experience investing overseas. I strove to build a company offering a professional service, that did its research and due diligence, and focused on treating clients fairly with no hard-sell.”
But Property Frontiers has promoted a series of investments that have gone pear shaped. Here are three of the investments promoted by Property Frontiers that have previously appeared on REDD-Monitor:
Silva Tree, Costa Rica: In 2009, Property Frontiers was promoting investments in carbon offsets in Costa Rica. Silva Tree was buying land in Costa Rica’s rainforest. For a minimum investment of US$12,000, Property Frontiers claimed an “8% guaranteed return”. The land was to be held in trust by Citadel Trustees. A Property Frontiers brochure claimed that,
By launching one of the first voluntary REDD projects in the world, and one of only a very few combined projects, the developer hopes to be a market leader by exploiting first mover advantages.
Silva Tree, Panama: Also in 2009, Property Frontiers was promoting investments in Silva Tree’s tree planting operation in Panama. Again carbon offsets were involved. Property Frontiers claimed “Guaranteed returns of up to 18.71% p.a. over 20 years”.
The Christian Science Monitor exposed the project in April 2010, as claiming to be a “certified carbon offset project”, when it was not certified.
As Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein pointed out repeatedly on his website Bananama, Silva Tree was a scam.
EcoPlanet Bamboo, Nicaragua: In 2011, Property Frontiers was promoting investments in a EcoPlanet Bamboo’s operations in Nicaragua. This time, Property Frontiers really went over the top, advertising the investment as “the best value forestry investment on the market with returns up to 895%”.
Once again, Citadel Trustees was involved, and once again, the investors were left asking where their money went.
(Two other failed investments that were promoted by Property Frontiers were luxury villas at Bacolet Bay in Grenada, and holiday apartments in Montenegro. If you have invested in a scheme promoted by Property Frontiers, REDD-Monitor would love to hear more about it in the comments below.)
Northern Powerhouse Developments
More recently Property Frontiers was one of several companies that promoted investments in hotels run by a company called Northern Powerhouse Developments. In total, more than 1,000 people handed over about £80 million to Northern Powerhouse Developments and other companies owned by Gavin Woodhouse.
The investments were in care homes, hotels, and a proposed adventure resort at Afan Valley in South Wales.
In July 2019, the High Court in London ordered Northern Powerhouse Developments and four other related companies into liquidation.
Six years ago, Woodhouse raised £16 million from retail investors to build four care homes.
The record is not good. Smithy Bridge near Rochdale has been built, but not opened. Hawthorn Care Village in Burnley is still a disused school. Walsden Care Village in Calderdale is still a timber yard. And work hasn’t started on Clifton Moor in Tyldesley.
None of the companies that Woodhouse set up to build the care homes have any money left.
The money went to another Woodhouse company, MBI Consulting. That company went into administration in August 2018, with debts of almost £18 million.
Woodhouse and his companies were the subject of a December 2015 investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Woodhouse’s MBI Group is described as,
a company whose managers include a struck-off solicitor, a disqualified director and a chief executive who was once the sole director of a company that held a strip club licence – and who says his involvement in the sector will allow him to buy fast cars and diamonds for his wife.
Woodhouse posted this image on his Facebook page (it’s now gone, but is still on the Bureau of Investigative Journalism website):
That should have perhaps set off a few alarm bells!
Property Frontiers and Northern Powerhouse Developments
Property Frontiers encouraged people to invest in the following three Northern Powerhouse Developments hotels:
The Atlantic Bay Hotel in Woolacombe: In February 2017, Property Frontiers’ Ray Withers told the Daily Express that,
“For UK property investing in 2017 we believe holiday homes, coastal cottages and hotels will be popular with investors looking for a favourable stamp duty environment, high yields and insulation from market uncertainty.”
The Daily Express reported that Property Frontiers was “selling hotel room investment packages in four-star Atlantic Bay Hotel in Woolacombe, Devon, from £75,000, promising 10 per cent guaranteed net yields for 10 years and a 125 per cent buyback option”.
Here’s an archived copy of Property Frontiers’ website promoting the Atlantic Bay Hotel.
Eden Country Spa Hotel, Cumbria: In August 2017, Woodhouse announced that “Northern Powerhouse Developments has exchanged on the purchase of Eden Country Spa Hotel, the latest property to join our growing portfolio of UK hotels”.
The hotel was called Gilsland Hall Hotel and was to be renamed after it had been refurbished.
Property Frontiers advertised this hotel as “one of our most anticipated launches of 2017”. The hotel was “set to become one of the UK’s leading spa destinations,” Property Frontiers told us.
Property Frontiers claimed that an investment of £45,000 would give a return of “10% NET p.a. for up to 10 years”.
The Eden Spa Hotel is still on Property Frontiers’ website. Click on the image for an archived version:
Harland Hotel, Scarborough: In December 2017, Northern Powerhouse Developments bought the Esplanade Hotel. It was to be refurbished and renamed as The Harland. Property Frontiers stated on its website that the hotel “offers a range of luxury en-suite hotel rooms from as little as £60,000”. And Property Frontiers claims that the investment would give an ongoing income of “10% NET for 10 years”.
Here’s an archived copy of Property Frontiers’ website promoting the Harland Hotel.
The Guardian and ITV investigation of Woodhouse and his companies
The Guardian and ITV recently carried out an investigation into Woodhouse’s companies. They found a “multi-million black hole, where investors’ money has vanished”.
Northern Powerhouse Developments bought 11 hotels. None of them made an operating profit.
Northern Powerhouse Developments denies any wrongdoing. But in July 2019, the Guardian reported that the Serious Fraud Office was considering investigating Woodhouse and his companies.
John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw called on the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate. Mann told the Guardian,
“This smells a bit like a Ponzi scheme, and it’s so complex it’s hard to be certain, but something is not right here. And so there needs to be either regulation intervening or to check whether or not this is in fact legal. So I’ve written to the Serious Fraud Office and Andrew Bailey, the head of the Financial Conduct Authority, the regulator, asking them to intervene and investigate.”
If the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority do decide to investigate, perhaps they could also take a look at some of the companies that promoted investments in Northern Powerhouse Developments’ schemes. Property Frontiers would be a good place to start.