- By ITV News Business Producer Joanna Partridge
Plans for a new £200m 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.
Here's an introduction to Mr Woodhouse and the people in his world of business.
GAVIN WOODHOUSE - Chairman and owner of Northern Powerhouse Developments
Gavin Woodhouse is a self-styled “entrepreneur, business mentor and investor”.
He’s the Chairman and owner of Northern Powerhouse Developments which is behind the £200 million Afan Valley Adventure Resort project.
The West Yorkshire-based company also has a string of hotels across England and Wales, marketed as the Whisper Collection.
Before he owned hotels, Mr Woodhouse was in the care home business.
From 2013, he and his then-business partner Robin Forster marketed 4 off-plans care home projects to investors, raising £16 million to build the homes.
On his personal website, Mr Woodhouse claims to have “an insatiable appetite and passion for business, an infectious enthusiasm for life and a boundless energy and determination to achieve results”.
But latest accounts show that his hotel group made an operating loss last year of £14 million.
In recent social media updates, Mr Woodhouse tells his followers: “Don’t expect success to happen overnight”. His 4 care home projects clearly could not be called a success - all 4 were supposed to be operational by the end of last year. None of them are.
Mr Woodhouse refused the offer of an interview with ITV News.
Mr Woodhouse denies any wrong-doing.
He blames contractors for the delays to the construction of his care homes but insists he is "committed to delivering the projects."
He insists he has not misled investors and that their money is "held in bank accounts, which are separate and allocated to each SPV" (individual project). He declined our invitation to provide proof of how much money is left.
Mr Woodhouse admits he's had "cash flow issues" but insists that care home investors will be paid from "operational profits" from his hotels group, Northern Powerhouse Developments.
The hotels made an operating loss last year according to the accounts, but Mr Woodhouse says the "financial forecast is positive".
When it comes to MBI Consulting, Mr Woodhouse disputes that he owes the company £1.2 million.
Mr Woodhouse is the controlling shareholder of MBI but says he "has not been told why certain transactions were made" after he stood down as a director at the end of January 2016.
Mr Woodhouse says there has been a "misunderstanding" regarding Jaguar Land Rover and Go Ape.
ROBIN FORSTER - Chief Executive of Qualia Care and Managing Director of MBI Consulting (UK) Ltd
Mr Forster is Mr Woodhouse’s former business partner. They set up several companies together including MBI Consulting (UK) Ltd, which collapsed into administration last year, owing £17.8 million to creditors.
Mr Forster and other directors of MBI told the administrators FRP that the primary reason for the failure of the company was due to Mr Woodhouse’s failure to repay a £1.2 million loan from the company.
Together Mr Forster and Mr Woodhouse initially launched and promoted the 4 new-build care home projects, which raised £16 million from investors between 2013 and 2016.
Mr Forster says the two men went their separate ways in December 2015 after an article about Mr Woodhouse was published in The Independent newspaper.
He says he has no involvement or interest in Afan Valley Adventure Resort, Northern Powerhouse Developments or any other company Mr Woodhouse operates.
Mr Forster is however still a shareholder in some of Mr Woodhouse’s companies.
Mr Forster told us he hasn’t spoken to Mr Woodhouse for two and a half years, and that he has “legal issues with him” so that they only communicate through lawmakers.
Mr Forster says he has spent “a lot of money” trying to make Mr Woodhouse repay the £1.2 million loan without success.
FRP, the administrators of MBI Consulting (UK) Ltd told us they “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.”
Gavin 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 Mr Forster ever since.
Mr Woodhouse says he doesn’t know how MBI amassed such large debts after he ceased to be a director and blames 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.
PETER MOORE OBE - Chairman of Leisure, Northern Powerhouse Developments
Peter Moore joined the board of Northern Powerhouse Developments in January 2017. He is employed as a contractor and we understand he is paid £144,000 a year.
NPD describes him as “having played a major role in the success of leisure icons such as Alton Towers, Center Parcs”.
He was awarded an OBE for services to tourism in 1996.
Mr Moore told ITV News he knows nothing about Mr Woodhouse’s poor track record in off-plan projects.
He said Mr Woodhouse’s failure to deliver the care homes as “a series of facts that I was completely unaware of” and “a bolt from the blue”.
Mr Moore explained that, although he is a member of the NPD board, he had no involvement with the group’s hotels and that his focus was the Afan Valley project.
Peter Moore told ITV News he insisted at the start of the Afan Valley Adventure Resort project that Gavin Woodhouse set up an escrow account to hold the funds raised from investors “to protect them”. Mr Moore says he was surprised to learn no escrow account was ever set up.
Mr Moore says he told Mr Woodhouse that selling rooms in hotels and lodges would not be appropriate way to fund the Afan Valley project. “I said before Christmas, I told Gavin, this is not the way to do it. It will take us forever to do it this way”.
In the Autumn 2018 issue of NPD’s marketing magazine, u&, Mr Moore celebrated the announcement of Jaguar Land Rover as partners in the Afan Valley resort, where he said: “The Land Rover Experience is the perfect fit and will help deliver another exhilarating experience for guests to enjoy”.
Jaguar Land Rover has told ITV News and the Guardian it is “not in any official partnership with Northern Powerhouse Developments (NPD).”
RUSSELL KETT - Special Advisor to the board of Northern Powerhouse Developments
Russell Kett was appointed as Special Advisor to the board of Northern Powerhouse Developments in April 2018.
For over two decades he has run the London office of HVS - a US-based hospitality firm which carries out hotel valuations.
Mr Kett is well-known in the hospitality industry for his trademark bow tie.
According to the latest accounts of Northern Powerhouse Developments (Holdings) Limited, the group made an operating loss of £14.2 million.
It ended the period with a reported profit of £4.1 million, thanks in large part to an upward revaluation of its hotel properties, by £21.7 million.
The company’s accounts state that “all hotels have been independently valued by HVS Global Hospitality Services”.
One example of the hotel revaluations can be seen in the Fishguard Bay Hotel in west Wales. NPD purchased the hotel in June 2017 for £966,720 according to Land Registry documents. The hotel has not yet been renovated or refurbished. But in a recent publication to investors, NPD stated the hotel is now worth £6.7 million, seven times more than its purchase price.
VIJAY DEVADOSS - Investor
NHS orthopaedic surgeon Vijay Devadoss was forced to take early retirement in 2013 due to ill health.
He wanted to invest some money to secure his family’s future and hopefully do some good at the same time.
So when he heard about the opportunity to buy a room in a care home, it ticked all the boxes.
Between April and August 2015, Mr Devadoss invested his and his wife’s life savings and pension funds of £450,000 in a care home development called Clifton Moor.
That care home was due to be built in Tyldesley, Greater Manchester, by a company run by entrepreneur Gavin Woodhouse.
Mr Devadoss expected to start receiving his first payment earlier this month. The money didn’t arrive.
Mr Devadoss visited the overgrown site with ITV News. “There are wildflowers where there should be a care home”, he said.
“I was expecting a nursing home with 70 beds, so I’m really shocked to see that nothing has happened,” he 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 of £78,000 from Woodhouse’s company, Northern Powerhouse Developments, earlier this month, but it didn’t arrive.
“I feel angry at myself for letting myself into a project like this. I can’t blame others personally but I am feeling terribly guilty and angry about myself and I feel that I let down my wife and family,” Mr Devadoss said.
Mr Devadoss is now worried that he has lost his life savings.
BEAR GRYLLS - Adventurer and survival instructor
Bear Grylls was a member of the special forces, before becoming a well-known adventure and television presenter.
The Bear Grylls Survival Academy was launched in the UK in 2012. It runs outdoor survival courses aimed at adults and children.
Bear Grylls has recorded marketing videos, stating that he has decided to base the headquarters of his Survival Academy at the Afan Valley Adventure Resort.
ITV News and the Guardian understand that the Bear Grylls Survival Academy is being paid £180,000 a year to endorse the resort.
Neither Bear Grylls or the Survival Academy wished to comment on our story. There is no suggestion that either he or the Survival Academy was aware of Woodhouse’s background when the partnership was agreed.
JAGUAR LAND ROVER
Jaguar Land Rover is the UK’s largest car manufacturer and is owned by the Indian company Tata Motors.
Its Land Rover Experience centres give people the chance to get behind the wheel of a Land Rover and learn to drive off-road.
Northern Powerhouse Developments announced Jaguar Land Rover as partners in its Afan Valley Adventure Resort in autumn 2018 and said the car maker would be locating its Land Rover Experience at Afan Valley.
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) says “it is not in any official partnership with Northern Powerhouse Developments (NPD)”.
JLR says it did have “exploratory discussions” about locating a Land Rover Experience at the Afan Valley Adventure Resort but ”no commitment has ever been made”.
“Land Rover gets many approaches of this nature from interested third parties - NPD are not Land Rover Experience partners”.
Go Ape describe themselves as “the UK’s number 1 forest adventure”.
It’s an outdoor activity company which offers rope courses and challenges in the tree tops and on the ground at locations across the country.
Northern Powerhouse Developments described Go Ape as one of their partners in the Afan Valley Adventure Resort.
Go Ape told ITV News and the Guardian it is “interested in the project” but hasn’t agreed terms and “nothing has been signed”.
Neath Port Talbot Council says news that neither Jaguar Land Rover nor Go Ape are contractually bound to the Afan Valley resort in the way that Mr Woodhouse claimed “appears to undermine the viability of the scheme”.