The increasing profile of hedge funds in the Scottish property market
PineBridge Investments is a private, global asset manager with $150.0 billion in assets under management. It draws its success from decades of investment across a number of asset classes operating through a network of global offices with talented and highly rated investment teams and a world-class infrastructure. Clients include pension plans, insurance companies, official institutions, private banks, advisors and intermediaries.
PineBridge Benson Elliot, owned by Pinebridge Investments, is a UK-based, FCA-regulated fund manager with $3.2 billion of managed equity and holds a diversified real estate portfolio, currently comprised of office, retail, hotel and residential assets in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Central Europe.
Sigma Capital Group, owned by Pinebridge Benson Elliot is an Edinburgh-based residential development and urban regeneration specialist with a value of £188.4 million. Having delivered 5,400 homes to date it is investing heavily into the UK private rental sector with the intention of growing the business through the formation of new long term house builder partnerships, expanding additional capital towards new Private Rent Supply (PRS) opportunities into new regional markets further widening its rental product offering.
Comment: The SNP government has invested in excess of £2Bn into the private sector building industry. Hedge funds based offshore are gaining control of the build and rent and affordable house purchase and rental housing market through their subsidiary companies and this cannot be good for Scotland since profits are being siphoned off into offshore accounts and effective controls are impossible to sustain.
About Springfield Properties
The Elgin-based company which became housing developer Springfield Properties was founded as a market garden in 1956. By the late 1970s, the company retained just 10 acres, all of which had been zoned for housing. But in 1989 having failed to sell the land to a developer, the company was turned into a housebuilding business and built around 100 houses. The success provided finance allowing the purchase of 130 plots of land in Forres on which it built houses. The venture was profitable and by the mid-2000s it was turning over about £20m.
2006-2008 brought a bubble in the housing market. The company sold around a third of its landbank and moved its operations to build affordable housing taking on much-reduced risk. This protected the company from the property market crash and the upturn in the market saw it in a strong position, with no bank loans, and a contract for a 438 house development in Morayshire. The change also provided the opportunity to expand operations into Central Scotland where there were many unfinished blocks of flats where developments had gone into liquidation. In 2011 the company cemented its place in Central Scotland when it acquired the Scottish business of listed builder Redrow. This allowed the company to continue its growth pushing past the £100m mark in the year ending March 2017.
The company built 75 family rental homes (rental value around £0.85m per annum) for Sigma Capital Group, the residential development and urban regeneration specialist. The site was the first development of single-family homes for the private rented sector in Scotland and is part of a substantial, new standalone village development of around 3,000 homes already well underway by Springfield at Bertha Park, outside Perth on the Ruthvenfield Road and marks the launch of Sigma’s rental brand, “Simple Life” in Scotland.
Springfield Properties New villages/towns
The company formed partnerships with local councils committing it to the creation of 5 new villages in Dundee, Edinburgh, Perth, Elgin and Stirling with an expected population of around 3,000 each. They are at various stages of planning and/or building at the start of 2022.
Perth and Kinross Council approved the construction of 75 houses for families to rent privately. Bertha Park Village also includes a convenience store, play park and secondary school and was the Scottish housebuilding company’s first development under a private rental sector partnership, which it entered into with Sigma Capital in September last year.
Springfield said the development of the PRS housing will provide it with a further revenue stream, strong cash flow visibility and will increase the build-out rate of its villages. Chief Executive Innes Smith said: “These high-quality, professionally-managed homes will be an asset to the community and attract those who might not yet be ready to buy but want to benefit from everything our villages have to offer. The development of PRS housing will also further diversify our revenue streams and provide additional visibility over future sales.”
Springfield Properties recently received consent to build a 3,042-home village over 20 years at Durieshill, Stirling. The project will create an entirely new community served by a range of amenities such as shops, a play park and a library, answering some of the concerns expressed in a recent survey on what homebuyers want from new developments. It is Springfield’s largest development to receive planning permission and management believes it is one of the biggest to have been approved in Scotland. The new village is less than a mile south of Stirling and covers an area of 593 acres. With a gross development value of approximately £650 million
The new Elgin South Village proposed by Springfield Properties has been approved by Moray Council and the build of the first 870 new homes, two new schools and the state of the art Moray Sports Centre was approved. With ample green space, communal areas and the option for retail units, the plans will transform the south side of Elgin and are part of a wider 2,500 home masterplan. Springfield Properties worked closely with the Council to design the new village covering 204 hectares – roughly the size of 167 football pitches. The first phase will also help Moray Council meet affordable housing targets with 220 allocated for social housing.
3 Oct 2015: Fraud probe MP in a row over cronyism
Mortgage fraud probe MP Michelle Thomson was at the centre of a cronyism row after it emerged she accepted a £5,000 donation from property developer Springfield Properties. She then endorsed the company in an election leaflet while photographed alongside its chairman, Alexander Adam. He and his company have given the SNP and pro-independence campaign nearly £100,000 in the past three years. Over the same period, Springfield Properties received a government loan of nearly £1million and was selected to take part in a lucrative construction scheme whereby mortgages for new-build houses are guaranteed by the Scottish Government. Nicola Sturgeon distanced herself from the matter.
31 Jan 2016: Major SNP donor at the centre of tax haven row
Sandy Adam, who has given nearly £100,000 to the SNP through his companies and private wealth is a major shareholder in five companies: Springfield Commercial Investments Ltd, Heather ltd, Carnoustie Limited, Portobello Apartments Limited and Flower of Scotland Limited. all are registered in the Isle of Man tax haven which provides an appealing way for international business people to legitimately minimise their international tax liabilities. It is a secure and stable offshore jurisdiction, with strong confidentiality laws and an attractive tax regime. Companies registered in the Isle of Man do not have to file accounts for the public record.
Springfield Commercial Investments Ltd, set up in 2010 owns properties across Scotland, including parts of the Winston Barracks estate in Lanark, South Lanarkshire. It also has properties in Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway, and Edinburgh. In 2012 the company bought 2 sections of Aberdeen’s main shopping thoroughfare, Union Street, for around £1m. The Isle of Man is one of 38 jurisdictions that were ordered to clean up their tax affairs by the Operation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
At present, the use of offshore companies as vehicles for property ownership and development is not illegal. However, the Scottish Greens pressed for it to be restricted to companies registered in the EU in a bid to exclude tax havens, such as the Isle of Man, and improve transparency. A proposal thrown out by SNP Land Reform Minister Aileen McLeod.
Nicola Sturgeon has described tax avoidance as “obscene, immoral and downright wrong” amid a growing row over offshore firms and her MPs have criticised the so-called “sweetheart” deal between Google and the UK Government, which will see it pay just £130 million to cover a decade of back taxes.
Speaking about the agreement last week the party’s deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, said: “Working people and small businesses do not have the luxury of negotiating down the amount of tax they have to pay.”
The foregoing disclosures became public knowledge an inconvenient few weeks after SNP MP Phil Boswell was accused of using a tax loophole for his own benefit while demanding a clampdown on tax dodgers. Lib Dem peer Jeremy Purvis accused the SNP of double standards over the issue saying: “Cracking down on tax avoidance was a major plank of the SNP’s 2015 manifesto. But Boswell’s admission that he used a tax avoidance scheme passed without comment from the First Minister whose response to this issue has been very weak.”
Note: Springfield Commercial Investments operates only in the rental sector.
4 Apr 2021: Planning application approved after Nicola Sturgeon meeting she failed to declare
In Dec 2019 the £650m planning application to construct the 3000-home Durieshill village in Stirlingshire was approved after a meeting between Senior Springfield staff and Nicola Sturgeon which she failed to declare. Senior Springfield staff also lobbied the First Minister in Perth in January 2019 but there is no mention of the talks in her official diary. And several other appointments between Springfield and senior SNP ministers were also not recorded.
This despite the Holyrood code of conduct stating: “Private Offices should arrange for the basic facts of formal meetings between ministers and outside interest groups to be recorded, setting out the reasons for the meeting, the names of those attending and the interests represented.” Sturgeon was previously accused of cronyism in 2015 after announcing an overhaul of the planning system following a campaign by multi-millionaire Adam.
On the day of Sturgeon’s January 2019 meeting with Springfield, her diary simply states: “Announcement, Cities Deal – Perth.” which was a reference to the wider public event she attended in the town where the discussions took place. Springfield made clarified in its submission to the lobbying register that managing director Peter Matthews had held a “face-to-face meeting” with Sturgeon.
Former finance minister Derek Mackay was also lobbied by Adam in July 2018. While the businessman recorded the meeting in Holyrood’s lobbying register, the talks did not appear in Mackay’s own diary. Senior Springfield employees also met Housing Minister Kevin Stewart twice in 2019 but the firm wasn’t mentioned on either occasion in his records.
It has been discovered that SNP ministers intervened or planned to intervene to overturn seven local authority planning decisions since 2014 which went against Springfield, involving more than 400 houses.
Labour MSP Neil Findlay whose research staff uncovered the undocumented meetings said: “There are serious questions to be asked with reference to the ministerial code. This smacks of cronyism. A large-scale SNP donor meets with the First Minister and other cabinet members but none of it is registered in their ministerial diaries. All of this is against a backdrop of the social housing budget being cut by £100million.”
In 2016 Springfield also received approval for a 3000-home development at Bertha Park in Perth in 2015 after Adam lobbied Sturgeon to reform the planning system which he said was blocking housing development. Her response was to pledge a “root and branch review”.
2 Jul 2021 unrecorded meetings expose a culture of sleaze within the SNP government
Investigative journal the Ferret reported that “hundreds” of meetings were undertaken by Scottish Government officials, but were not reported to the register. The journal analysed Scottish ministers’ engagements in 2020 and found some met with companies awarded contracts to supply the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. It also noted lobbyists met with Scottish Government representatives 179 times since March 2018. The Scottish Government insisted it was “committed to transparency”, adding that “all ministerial engagements are recorded and published, including meetings held via phone calls”.
Neil Bibby, Scottish Labour business manager, on 4 February 2020, in the lobby of the Scottish Parliament, said: “These reports raise serious questions about whether Scotland’s lobbying laws are fit for purpose. With countless key meetings going unrecorded, it is clear that the SNP are exploiting loopholes to avoid scrutiny. These shameless attempts to undermine the spirit of the lobbying act are all too typical from a government constantly avoiding any and all transparency. The laws need to be looked at, but legislation can only do so much as long as there is this culture of sleaze and secrecy at the heart of the SNP.”
Comment: Sleaze, secrecy and complete lack of transparency have been the hallmarks of the SNP government whose leadership of narcissistic sociopaths have gathered unfettered power to the centre.
Note: Content gathered from the Scottish press media