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Longbridge and St Modwens

Keith Parkins | 25.04.2005 14:16 | Analysis | Globalisation | Social Struggles | Birmingham | London | South Coast

The collapse of MG Rover, the last remaining British car company, has left many facing financial ruin, and yet in addition to the Phoenix Four, who appear to have milked the company for millions, one company, St Modwens the Destroyer, has done very nicely out of the collapse of MG Rover.

'The interesting thing will be - and this is where accountants are going to have a lot of fun - is where's it all gone?' -- Dr Tom Donnelly, Coventry Business School

'The collapse of MG Rover is not all bad news for those involved with the Longbridge-based firm. For property group St Modwen Properties, which owns the car maker's Birmingham site, Rover's cloud could well hide a silver lining.' -- James Quinn

It was a nice little earner for some. Pick up a car company for a tenner, pay yourself and your cronies millions for running it (into the ground), then when the inevitable happens and the company collapses, pay millions more into a pension fund to featherbed your retirement.

That is the scam the Phoenix Four, John Towers and his fellow directors, appear to have pulled off at MG Rover. Shades of John De Lorean.

Meanwhile, workers are sent home with one week's wages, will be lucky if they receive the statutory minimum redundancy, suppliers will go unpaid, as will many car dealerships, 150,000 Rover owners have warranties that are worthless pieces of paper, fire sale of unsold Rovers will add to the rapid depreciation of the second-hand value of Rovers.

One dealership, PVM, has already gone into liquidation, following the collapse of MG Rover. A Kent-based dealership, which can trace its roots back for a century, has not been paid for six months.

Not that I am shedding any crocodile tears that a car company has gone to the wall.

What has received little attention, is that apart from the Phoenix Four, one company has done very well out of the collapse of MG Rover, St Modwens (St Modwens the destroyer, aka St Modwen Properties plc).

The 403-acre site at Longbridge was recently sold to St Modwens for £57.7 million, then leased back at £5 million per annum. Unlike the component suppliers and car dealerships, who are owed substantial sums of money, St Modwens has been paid upfront until the end of June 2005!

The site at Longbridge, now it lacks the inconvenience of a working car plant, is worth a small fortune. Conveniently located near the M5 and M42 motorways, ideal for warehousing, light industry, possibly mixed-use with high-density housing. There is already a bid in by Tesco to site a huge superstore.

Tesco would say they are creating jobs, but this is not true. A superstore destroys jobs in the retail sector. In Boston in Lincolnshire and Hillsborough in Sheffield, an Asda superstore took trade away from existing retailers, as did a Tesco superstore in Aldershot in Hampshire. On average, every time a supermarket opens, 276 jobs are lost in the retail sector. Half the nation now shops in 1,000 superstores.

Nor does the creation of poorly-paid, part-time jobs by Tesco make up for the loss of skilled, highly paid engineering jobs.

The ancient Cathedral City of Lincoln once had an engineering heartland. An engineering city in the middle of an agricultural county. Lincoln was proud of its engineering heritage, a heritage that pre-dated the industrial revolution. Where once stood engineering factories, whose goods were exported worldwide, now stands sheds on an inner-city bypass, retail emporiums full of sad-faced shoppers, served by sad-faced retail assistants.

Tony Blair claims to be increasing the skills base of the country. What we are seeing is de-skilling of the nation, in a country that once led the world with its engineering excellence.

St Modwens also own adjacent to Longbridge a 57-acre site, for which they already have planning consent courtesy of Birmingham City Council.

The Longbridge site would be heavily contaminated, but who takes site cleanups seriously?

One of the most heavily contaminated sites in the country is the former Turner and Newall asbestos factory site at Rochdale in Lancashire, in the north west of England. At the height of asbestos production, neighbouring streets were coated in asbestos, kids used to play in the white asbestos dust. T&N eventually filed for bankruptcy to avoid their liabilities in litigation for health damage due to asbestos. T&N, although their main business was asbestos, had no insurance cover for asbestos liability!

Plans have been submitted to build 650 houses and a children's nursery on the 72-acre former T&N site.

A so-called 'environmental survey' has been carried out by Development Planning Partnership, former land agents to the now defunct T&N. No conflict of interest there then. They could find no evidence of asbestos contamination!

Development Planning Partnership concluded:

' ... overall the current site investigation works have determined little significant contamination ... of particular note is the absence of any asbestos contamination.'

But the consortium that wishes to develop the former T&N site has said:

'Our priority has been to turn an asset of dubious value (possibility even a liability) into cash.'

The absence of any asbestos contamination is clearly a step in the right direction.

The report is though at variance with the asbestos known to be on site during the plant's 115 year history, the tonnes of asbestos dumped on the site, and that when trees on the site are blown over in storms, their roots are found to be caked in asbestos. A T&N document dated 1957 accounted for 15,000 lbs of asbestos dust a week being dumped on site from the filter room alone.

Audits of the site by Rochdale council have revealed the presence of asbestos contamination, although campaigners had to use the Freedom of Information Act to extract this information from the local council.

An investigation is to be mounted into the Phoenix Four and their management of MG Rover. This should be widened to cover the acquisition of the Longbridge site by St Modwens.

St Modwens seem to have a knack of having the right people in the right places to facilitate their deals.

Farnborough town centre has been trashed by St Modwens. The northern half of the town is to be demolished for a superstore. The local community does not want this, not that they have been asked. Apart from one or two councillors of integrity, councillors have fallen over backwards to bulldoze through the planning application.

Social housing, owned by Pavilion Housing Association, is earmarked for demolition for the car park for the superstore. Pavilion were only too willing to facilitate the deal by kicking out their tenants and selling the land to St Modwens.

Farnborough town centre is now a ghost town. All that it lacks is the tumbleweed blowing through the main street.

Upton Park in East London, unlike clone town, has a thriving main street of independent retailers, plus the excellent Queens Market, a century-old covered street market. Upton Park could be next in line to experience the St Modwens style of 'regeneration'. The Mayor of Newham has decided to sell the site of Queens Market to St Modwens to enable the site to be redeveloped as a superstore and yuppie apartments.

A community forest has recently been established on the outskirts of Swindon. St Modwens had set their greedy little eyes on it, an ideal development opportunity. Fortunately for the local community, St Modwens failed to find their usual Quislings in the local council and were sent packing with their corporate tail firmly tucked between their legs.

St Modwens were behind the controversial redevelopment of the Brighton West Pier in West Sussex on the south coast of England. Redevelopment that would have ruined the Victorian pier. When the St Modwens plan ran into massive opposition, they already had planning consent from Skidrow-on-Sea, the West Pier mysteriously burnt down. Arson is strongly suspected. The interest of St Modwens was not in the pier but the valuable real estate on the seafront that they wished to develop that came with the pier.

Paul Rigg, former chief executive of West Sussex County Council, has recently been appointed to the St Modwens board as a non-executive director.

St Modwens also own the Elephant and Castle shopping centre in London. How long before it is ruined, oops sorry 'redeveloped', and all the small retailers driven out?

During 2004, St Modwens, in addition to acquiring the second half of the Longbridge site (the first half was acquired in 2003), also acquired 600 acres of the Corus Llanwern steelworks, a 478 acre former MoD site at Long Marston in Warwickshire and a former power station of 100 acres at Meaford, near Stone in Staffordshire. In total, over 1,600 acres were acquired in 2004, and this is not counting town centre acquisitions.

In addition to the acquisition of old industrial sites in 2004, St Modwens also acquired Kirby Shopping centre and the Malls shopping centre at Basingstoke.

St Modwens see themselves as specialists in redevelopment of brown field sites and town centre regeneration. Rapacious vultures that tear at the corpse of a rotting and decaying post-industrial society.

Writing in the 2004 Annual Report, St Modwens' chairman Anthony Glossop says 'mixed use schemes such as Edmonton, Wembley and Farnborough .... gives us the experience and credibility to approach even larger schemes schemes, such as the Elephant & Castle, with greater confidence.'

But rest assured, Glossop assures us that St Modwens 'as a company has always sought to manage its affairs to the highest standards of integrity and business competence.' Glossop goes on to assure us of the high standards on 'risk assessment, health and safety and environmental performance'.

So that's alright then.

In Farnborough, two buildings were demolished. Both sites created dust and dirt, rocks and other debris flying from the site, one site had a rickety fence that regularly blew down in winds, on the other site, the building was demolished with a digger, not by hand, this in the middle of a town centre, with no screening, people were being choked by dust, hit by flying debris, luckily no one was seriously injured or killed. The two new buildings erected are awful eyesores, even worse that the 1960s buildings they replaced, and not expected to last as long. The northern half of the town consists of boarded-up shop units awaiting demolition for an unwanted superstore. Prior to acquisition by St Modwens, Farnborough had a thriving town centre that was not in need of regeneration, now it is awaiting its final death blow.

Shortly before the collapse of MG Rover, the Phoenix Four sold the Longbridge site to St Modwens. Following the collapse of MG Rover, this site alone is worth more than what the entire MG Rover group was worth as a car production company.

At the time of the disposal of Longbridge, St Modwens were criticised for buying a worthless asset. What did they know that the rest of us did not know? Did they know MG Rover was about to collapse? Inside information? Grounds for investigation?

Shortly before the collapse of MG Rover there was massive asset stripping. The group does not own the site, they do not even own the designs for the cars (which were sold to the Chinese at a knock down price).

MG Rover was insolvent. The Chinese knew the group was insolvent and knew this at least three months before it was made public that the deal was not going through. Blair knew this, but tried to prolong negotiations hoping to avoid a very public collapse just before a General Election.

In begs the question: what little is there of value left for the liquidators to dispose of?

Trade Minister Patricia Hewitt was late for the meeting Blair called to thrash out a possible rescue mission for MG Rover. Her chauffeur-driven ministerial car, a Rover 75, refused to start!

An in-depth investigation (not the usual cover-up) into not only the collapse of MG Rover, but also the events that led to the sale of MG Rover from BMW to Phoenix, and the final few months, will probably finish Blair. Why did Blair and and then-Trade Secretary Stephen Byers personally intervene in the disposal of MG Rover by BMW on behalf of the Phoenix Four? Why was Blair in the run-up to the election saying there was the possibility of rescue, when the Chinese three months earlier had been saying that no, they did not wish to be lumbered with an insolvent company?

Who said we don't live in a corrupt Third World banana republic.


Lincoln Archer, 'Demoralised, disillusioned, deserted', BBC news on-line, 19 April 2005

Asbestos, BVEJ newsletter, March 2002

Nick Assinder, Rover collapse bad timing for Labour, BBC news on-line, 15 April 2005

Brian Brady and Tracey Boles, Ministers hid the truth on Rover's fall, Scotland on Sunday, 17 April 2005

Rhiannon Edward, Giant Tesco store could be built at site of failed Rover plant, The Scotsman, 18 April 2005

Anthony Glossop, Chairman's Statement, 2004 Annual Report, St Modwen Properties plc, 2004

Clayton Hirst, Tim Webb and Jason Nisse, Hewitt calls in top accountant to investigate Rover cash trail, The Independent on Sunday, 17 April 2005

Chris Kelly, Battle to save community forest, BBC news on-line, 3 June 2004

Jason Lewis and Dan Atkinson, Chancellor's call for Rover inquiry will put Blair in the frame, The Mail on Sunday, 17 April 2005

'Little' of value left at Rover, BBC news on-line, 8 April 2005

Longbridge Development Framework, Birmingham City Council, 2003 {summary}

Longbridge Development Framework, Birmingham City Council, 2003 {full document}

James Macintosh, Probe into £67m sale of Rover car designs, Financial Times, 22 April 2005

MG Rover goes into administration, BBC news on-line, 8 April 2005

MG Rover sells Longbridge land, BBC news on-line, 6 January 2004

Brian Milligan, 'Phoenix' from Longbridge ashes?, BBC news on-line, 15 April 2005

Oliver Morgan, It didn't turn to ashes for the Phoenix Four, The Observer, 10 April 2005

Oliver Morgan, DTI asks: where is Rover cash?, The Observer, 17 April 2005

New blow for Brighton's West Pier, BBC news on-line, 9 August 2004

Owners say pier fire was deliberate, BBC news on-line, 4 April 2003

Keith Parkins, Delivering the final death blow to Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 2 July 2004

Keith Parkins,The Scandal of Firgrove Court, Indymedia UK, 31 August 2004

Keith Parkins, Redevelopment of Farnborough town centre, October 2004

Keith Parkins, St Modwens the destroyer, Indymedia UK, 30 March 2005

Keith Parkins, Queens Market, Indymedia UK, 11 April 2005

Keith Parkins, STOP, Indymedia UK, 12 April 2005

Keith Parkins, Asda v Queens Market, Indymedia UK, 13 April 2005

Keith Parkins, Impact of superstores on local retailers, Indymedia UK, 18 April 2005

Plan for £100m business park, BBC news on-line, 14 November 2003

James Quinn, Longbridge deal puts St Modwen in the fast lane, Daily Mail, 16 April 2005

Rover cars to be made in China, BBC news on-line, 20 April 2005

Rover owners deny 'black hole', BBC news on-line, 16 April 2005

Jeremy Scott-Joynt, Phoenix Four's image could be revived, BBC news on-line, 12 April 2005

Laura Smith-Spark, Uncertain future for West Pier, BBC news on-line, 12 June 2003

St Modwen directors' pay revealed, Birmingham Post, 31 March 2005

Tim Webb and Clayton Hirst, 'Morally bankrupt' Phoenix Four stand to make millions more from the wreckage of MG Rover, The Independent on Sunday, 17 April 2005

West Pier destroyed by fire, BBC news on-line, 28 March 2003

Keith Parkins


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