Wales

Afan Valley resort: Gavin Woodhouse urged to respond to claims

Gavin Woodhouse Image copyright ITV News / the Guardian
Image caption Gavin Woodhouse is behind the plans for the resort

An entrepreneur behind a £200m adventure resort plan has been urged to respond to claims about his business.

Neath Port Talbot council asked Gavin Woodhouse to address concerns "as a matter of urgency".

A joint investigation was carried out by ITV News and The Guardian into Mr Woodhouse who wants to build the Afan Valley Adventure Resort.

A company owned by Mr Woodhouse said it would tell the council how it will comply with obligations in July.

Plans for the resort on forestry land in Port Talbot were given outline conditional planning approval by Neath Port Talbot councillors in March.

The planning committee was told it promised 535 full-time jobs during construction and the equivalent of 700 full-time jobs long-term when open.

A 325-acre former forestry plantation at Pen-y-Bryn has been earmarked for the proposal.

Now ITV and The Guardian claim to have identified "a series of concerns" about Mr Woodhouse involving finance for other projects.

They report Mr Woodhouse has told potential investors in the Afan Valley scheme that car maker Jaguar Land Rover and outdoor adventure company Go Ape are "partners" on the project.

They say this claim has been made in marketing, newspaper articles, and in the planning submission.

ITV and The Guardian say Jaguar Land Rover said it held talks with Mr Woodhouse but is "not in any official partnership" and "no commitment has ever been made" to the scheme.

Go Ape reportedly told them it is "interested in the project" but has not agreed terms and "nothing has been signed".

Image copyright Afan Valley Adventure Resort
Image caption An artist's impression of how the resort could look

On Thursday seven investors who put their savings into businesses owned by Mr Woodhouse began legal action, applying to the High Court to have four of his companies taken into administration. 

The application is expected to be heard by a judge in the next few weeks, who will decide whether to grant the orders.

In a statement to the BBC, Neath Port Talbot council said: "These are very serious allegations being made against Mr Woodhouse and it is important that he addresses the concerns as a matter of urgency.

"The council's only role in the proposed development has been in its capacity as the local planning authority and we have not provided Mr Woodhouse or his associates with financial support of any kind.

"During the assessment of the proposal, the council repeatedly raised concerns with regard to the business plan and supporting information provided and appropriate assurances were sought at every opportunity.

"Planning permission has not yet been fully granted for the Afan Valley Adventure Resort and remains conditional on further financial and legal obligations being met by the developer within a six-month deadline, set by elected members, which is due to expire in September 2019.

"Since the application came before councillors for discussion in March this year, the council has received little contact from the developer and no notable progress has been made to fulfil those conditions so far.

"We will await the outcome of any further investigations with interest."

Bear Grylls academy

ITV and The Guardian quote Mr Woodhouse denying he owes money to a failed company, MBI, and that he has not been responsible for any MBI management decisions since he resigned as a director in January 2016.

The investigation claims he said he did not know how the company amassed such large debts since his leaving.

They say Mr Woodhouse told them investors' money put into two other projects was "in bank accounts" and "allocated to each SPV (special project vehicle)".

They further quote him saying he plans to repay investors in a care home plan using profits from his hotel group.

Image caption Bear Grylls has previously posted a video about his academy and centre of excellence planned for the resort

A spokeswoman for Northern Powerhouse Developments, one of Mr Woodhouse's companies, said: "We remain as committed as ever to delivering the exciting Afan Valley project in Wales. 

"We remain in dialogue with Neath Port Talbot council and we recognise that full planning permission is condition[al] on further financial and legal obligations being met. 

"Those detailed and complex obligations are being finalised by our specialists and will be with the council by the end of July. 

"We are on track to deliver what we have proposed."

Adventurer and TV presenter, Bear Grylls, appeared in a marketing video for the Afan Valley Adventure Resort and said he had decided to base the Bear Grylls Survival Academy there.

A spokeswoman for the academy said: "We are conducting a full internal review of the relationship while we wait for all facts to materialize and plan to take all necessary steps to ensure the integrity of our business."

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