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FSB denounce Peel Group as 'disastrous' for South Yorkshire

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has expressed its concern at what it sees as the ever-expanding grip that development conglomerate Peel Group is establishing in South Yorkshire.

Peel Group (formerly Peel Holdings), headquartered in Manchester, acquired the 80 acre former Sheffield City Airport for £1 and has a controlling interest in the Sheffield Business Park, which seeks to develop large tracts of land in the east of Sheffield.

It also acquired the former Finningley RAF base, establishing the Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield in 2005.

With over £6bn of assets, Peel are one of the largest property investment companies in the UK.

The FSB has voiced its concern over Peel’s influence in South Yorkshire.

FSB Regional Chairman, Gordon Millward, commented: “We maintain that Peel’s closure of Sheffield City Airport – and its subsequent failure to meet its over-ambitious commitments in the switch to Robin Hood Airport - has been disastrous for the economic regeneration of South Yorkshire.”

Mr Millward was scathing in his assessment of Sheffield City Council’s part in the deals. He said: “It seems that Sheffield City Council is building an unenviable reputation of allying itself to developers who fail to deliver.”

The FSB are concerned that Peel has had undue influence over the development of commercial aviation in South Yorkshire, and that their influence has not necessarily been in the best interests of those who wish to see major economic development of the Sheffield city region.

The FSB cite the the award of a £1.8m loan to Peel to redevelop the former site of Sheffield City Airport, but the FSB have found no evidence in their published accounts that they have the financial assets to complete the redevelopment, except by bidding for further public subsidies.

They fear that Peel, through its Sheffield Business Park (Phase 2) shareholding, is effectively planning to build a rental portfolio at public expense from which it will benefit financially for decades to come.

Peel acquired the airport site - 80 acres of land - from Sheffield City Council for £1 in 2002, five years after the government has spent £18m of taxpayers money on the project.

A report published in March this year by Merseyside think tank, ExUrbe, marred Peel’s credibility by claiming the company is ‘heavily reliant upon other people’s money to fund its enormous ambitions’.

Salford City Council handed Peel Holdings companies almost £2m of public money for projects such as MediaCityUK and Port Salford, but ExUrbe assert those companies, ultimately controlled offshore, have no accountability.

ExUrbe said: “Now Liverpool is getting overwhelmed by the `beast’ that is Peel Holdings, related to its massive £10 billion Liverpool Waters and Wirral Waters schemes.

“It is hardly surprising that there is a perception Peel has local governance – if not local authorities themselves – in its pocket”.

“All Peel’s companies, including Tokenhouse Investments (Guernsey) Limited and Peel Ports Holdings (Ci) Limited, which is based in the Cayman Islands, lead to Tokenhouse Limited, registered in the Isle of Man…At the helm sits a tax exile, John Whittaker.”

“Peel has evolved into little more than a brand name for a multi-billion pound investment vehicle concerned first and foremost with cobbling finance deals together piecemeal from a bewildering array of sources, some of them distinctly questionable.”

Mr Millward, of the FSB, concluded: “In view of the report by ExUrbe, we are calling upon ministers, MPs, the Local Enterprise Partnership, and local councils in South Yorkshire to suspend all proposed funding to companies within the Peel Holdings group until a review is held to determine whether the company is in a position to meet its commitments to develop public assets within the region.

“We believe the business community has a right to reassurance that investment in the regional economy is being directed into areas which meet the specific needs of taxpayers, to the exclusion of the corporate interests of Peel and others.

“In the event of such reassurance not being forthcoming, we will be calling upon the relevant authorities to take immediate steps to recover the respective assets into public ownership.”

Peel Group last month revealed plans to build a new shopping centre in Partington Village in Greater Manchester, with a loan obtained from the Greater Manchester Growing Places Fund.

Peel declined to comment on the FSB’s assertions.

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