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ITV News investigation: Businessman’s track record causes major concerns for celebrity-endorsed £200m adventure resort

Plans for a new £200 million adventure park in Wales, that have been endorsed by the celebrity Bear Grylls, are now in doubt after an investigation by ITV News and the Guardian identified a series of concerns about the businessman behind the project.

The Afan Valley Adventure Resort is the brainchild of Gavin Woodhouse.

Our investigation into Mr Woodhouse’s business affairs found that he has previously raised tens of millions of pounds from amateur investors to fund a series of construction and refurbishment projects, most of which are incomplete.

The adventure resort project in Wales is estimated at a cost of £200m. Credit: Afan Valley Adventure Resort/Northern Powerhouse Developments

Large sums of investors’ money now appear to be unaccounted for and some investors claim not to have been repaid.

Vijay Devadoss is a retired NHS orthopaedic surgeon who paid £450,000 for nine rooms in Mr Woodhouse’s Clifton Moor care home development in 2015.

He was told that Clifton Moor would be operational and generating profits by 2018 but, at the site in Greater Manchester, there are wildflowers where a care home should be.

Retired surgeon Vijay Devadoss looks out over a wasteland after a six-figure investment. Credit: ITV News

“I was expecting a nursing home with 70 beds, so I’m really shocked to see that nothing has happened,” Mr Devadoss told ITV News. “If my wife was here, she would start to cry. I’m really upset but what else can I do?”

Mr Devadoss, who is 62 years old, was expecting a first payment this month of £78,000 from Mr Woodhouse’s company, Northern Powerhouse Developments, but it didn’t arrive.

“We were banking on [the payment] for our future. It is our real lifetime savings and pension for us. Because of this both of us have to rethink our plans and carry on working."

Mr Woodhouse launched the Clifton Moor care home project in 2014 and raised £4 million from investors like Mr Devadoss, according to leaked documents seen by ITV News and the Guardian.

Gavin Woodhouse reassured investors before conceding progress on a care home project had stopped. Credit: gavinwoodhouse.co.uk

Mr Woodhouse did inform investors there had been a problem with a sewer pipe on the site which was taking time to resolve.

But a year ago he declared that he was “delighted to report that we are now back on track and still in a position to deliver...Clifton Moor...on time and on budget".

In April of this year, Mr Woodhouse reassured investors that “huge progress" had been made at the Clifton Moor site. The following month, after he became aware of our investigation, he conceded to investors that the project had "slowed to a stop".

"I think I’ve been taken for a ride," Mr Devadoss told us. “Initially, I think [the company’s] intentions were good but afterwards they have been trying to hide the truth and they are telling more and more stories to cover up the problems”.

Vijay Devadoss said he does not believe the statements from Northern Powerhouse Developments. Credit: ITV News

ITV News and the Guardian have discovered that between 2013 and 2015, Mr Woodhouse persuaded investors to stump up £16 million to finance the construction of four off-plan care homes.

All four were supposed to be up and running by now but none of them are.

The Smithy Bridge care home near Rochdale is built but has never opened and has been up for sale for almost two years. The Walsden Care Village scheme in Calderdale remains a timber yard and the Hawthorn Care Village in Burnley is still a disused school.

Mr Woodhouse raised £5 million from investors to build the Hawthorn Care Village but he doesn’t own the land and Lancashire County Council told him more than a year ago that it wouldn’t sell the land to him.

Mr Woodhouse hasn’t even submitted planning permission for a care home at the site despite telling investors he had.

Millions of pounds appear to have been moved from the care homes to another of Gavin Woodhouse’s businesses. Credit: gavinwoodhouse.co.uk

ITV News and the Guardian have spoken to dozens of Mr Woodhouse’s investors. Many of them have told us that they have had to chase him repeatedly for late payments of the returns he promised them. We found investors at all four care home sites who say they are owed money by Mr Woodhouse - in some cases the repayments are more than a year overdue.

The care home projects are incomplete but, according to the latest accounts, none of the companies Mr Woodhouse set up to deliver them has any cash left in them.

Millions of pounds appear to have been moved from the care homes to another of Mr Woodhouse’s businesses, MBI Consulting (UK) Ltd.

MBI collapsed into administration last summer with £988 in the bank and owing £17.8m to creditors - including the four care home projects. It is not clear where the care home funds now are.

A report into the failure of the MBI by the administrator, FRP, also states that Mr Woodhouse borrowed £1.2m from the company, a loan which he hasn’t repaid. Mr Woodhouse disputes he owes MBI money.

We showed the administrator’s report on the collapse of MBI to Richard Kleiner, managing partner of the City accounting firm Gerald Edelman.

Mr Kleiner said: "There are up to £15m of unaccounted for funds that apparently were at some point transacted through this company and which were not there when it went into administration.

Richard Kleiner, managing partner of the City accounting firm Gerald Edelman, said £15m of funds are unaccounted for. Credit: ITV News

"There is a huge deterioration and clearly the question is: what happened to that money? Where did it go? Why is it no longer there?"

Some of the care home investors have expressed concern about their money. Mr Woodhouse left investors in two projects – Hawthorn and Clifton Moor – with the impression that their funds were being held by his law firm, Metis Law, and that they would receive proof of this.

After months of Mr Woodhouse’s investors chasing the businessman and his solicitors for proof of where their funds were, Metis Law told ITV News and the Guardian that it had never been instructed to provide this information to investors.

Mr Woodhouse now says the money is not with Metis but "in bank accounts, which are separate and allocated to each SPV [Special Purpose Vehicle]".

Mr Woodhouse insists that, while he holds 60% of the shares in MBI Consulting (UK) Ltd - a controlling stake, he has not been responsible for any of the management decisions taken at the company since he resigned as a director in January 2016 and that the business has since been run by the Managing Director, Robin Forster, his former business partner.

Robin Forster remains a shareholder in some of Gavin Woodhouse’s companies. Credit: MBI Consulting (UK) Ltd

Mr Woodhouse says he doesn’t know how MBI amassed such large debts after he ceased to be a director and blames Mr Forster for the financial position of the company.

Mr Forster, who owns 30% of MBI, says that there is no truth in Mr Woodhouse’s interpretation of events, that he refutes all allegations and suggestions of wrongdoing and that he has complete confidence in the administrator’s ongoing investigation.

In a statement FRP said: "The Administrators continue to work constructively with MBI’s stakeholders to secure the best outcome for all creditors. This includes potential litigation against various parties which, it is hoped, will lead to recoveries for the Company’s creditors...An update will be given to creditors in due course."

Mr Woodhouse admits that Northern Powerhouse Developments has had recent “cash flow problems”, but he insists the care homes will be built and, in the meantime, he says he plans to repay investors using the profits from his hotel group.

The latest accounts filed at Companies House show that his hotel group made an operating loss of £14 million last year.

Meanwhile Mr Woodhouse is trying to raise money for his Afan Valley Adventure Resort in South Wales.

Mr Woodhouse never mentions his struggling care home schemes to potential investors, but he has told them that Jaguar Land Rover and Go Ape are “partners” on the Afan Valley project.

Gavin Woodhouse was filmed by undercover cameras. Credit: ITV News/the Guardian

The claims have been widely made in marketing material, in newspaper articles and in Mr Woodhouse’s planning submission to Neath Port Talbot Council.

Neath Port Talbot Council granted conditional outline planning permission for the project in March. The council says it received a letter from Mr Woodhouse’s solicitor, Metis Law, stating it held “contracts and commercial agreements” with Jaguar Land Rover and Go Ape and claimed that all partners were “legally and contractually engaged”.

Jaguar Land Rover told us it held talks with Mr Woodhouse but is “not in any official partnership” and that “no commitment has ever been made” to the Afan Valley project.

Jaguar Land Rover's response on its role in the Afan Valley project. Credit: ITV News

Go Ape told us it is “interested in the project” but hasn’t agreed terms and “nothing has been signed”.

Go Ape's response on its role in the Afan Valley project. Credit: ITV News

The council says news that neither company is not contractually bound to the Afan Valley resort in the way that Mr Woodhouse claimed “appears to undermine the viability of the scheme”.

ITV News and the Guardian understand that the Bear Grylls Survival Academy is being paid £180,000 a year to endorse the Afan Valley Adventure Resort.

The Survival Academy declined to comment on our story. There is no suggestion that Mr Grylls or the Survival Academy was aware of Mr Woodhouse’s background when the partnership was agreed.