The Willows, former home of Salford City Reds, was by now supposed to be sporting new housing which would go some way to pay back a £1million loan given to the old rugby club by Salford City Council back in 2011.
But today the site lies derelict and the whole Willows site, owned by Godliman Watson Homes Ltd (GWH), is in the hands of a receiver trying to recoup some of the £2.2million owed to the Co-op Bank which has first charge on the land.
"We can confirm that a receiver has been appointed for Godliman Watson and it will now explore the options available for the site in conjunction with the Bank" a Co-op spokesperson confirmed "Any decisions regarding the future of the site would involve the receiver working with the Council planning team."
The Willows land, so far, has not been put on open sale and, as yet and contrary to other reports, there are no buyers. The Salford Star understands that the Co-op will be lucky to get all its money back from the eventual sale...
…Which is bad news for the John Wilkinson Pension Fund that has a second priority £1.7million charge on the land. And Salford Council which has the third priority charge for around £1million… a charge which its own secret report stated would have "clearly no value" and would be "financially worthless".
The Willows fiasco was part of the most bizarre loan deal Salford Council ever did to keep Salford City Reds in business. As well as the `third priority charge' with "clearly no value", the Council also entered into a `Development Agreement' with Godliman Watson Homes whereby, as each house on the Willows site sold, a proportion of the sale value would go to the Council to pay back the loan taken by Salford Reds. The connection was that Robert Iain Watson was a director of the Reds as well as Godliman Watson Homes.
The 2011 secret Salford Council report noted "There are clear risks for the Council in seeking to re-coup its lending to the Rugby Club by linking debt repayments to these property transactions, particularly in weak market conditions"; while its Legal team stated that "There appears to be some creative financial manoeuvres here"…
The whole deal depended on "market conditions" and GWH actually building houses on the site. With the receiver now trying to flog the land, the `development deal' with GWH is absolutely worthless. And there now appears only two options left for Salford Council to re-coup its £1million…
It can pursue the former directors of the Salford City Reds – John Wilkinson and Robert Iain Watson (of GWH) – to pay back the loan personally which was secured under the deal... According to the Council report they "could therefore be pursued to insolvency by the Council seeking to re-coup its lending to the Rugby Club if the above proposed development agreement with GWH does not lead to a successful outcome".
The second option is to wait for new Reds owner Marwan Koukash to cough up by 2028. Under a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) agreed with the old Salford Football Club Company (1914) Ltd, Koukash has agreed to pay all the debts – including £1.5million in total owed by the old club to Salford Council. Except that £1.26million of the loan is spread until 2038 with no interest payable (see here)
The Salford Star asked Salford Council a month ago what it intended to do to recover its loan. Would it pursue the former directors of Salford City Reds for their personal guarantees? Is there any chance of the new buyer of The Willows land agreeing to former terms and handing over a return to Salford Council on houses it builds? Is the Council intending to wait for the new owner of Salford Reds to pay back the loan, as agreed?
As usual Salford Council didn't respond. It might even be thinking – God help us! – of buying the land itself to pay back its own loan (?) as, in September, the Star found a note buried deep in the Council's website titled `Possible Acquisition of land at Willows Road/Kennedy Road'… `Willows Road leasehold acquisition and grant of development agreement'.
Meanwhile, if the Council wants to sue GWH for the money owed, it had better get in the queue. Local businesses have been in touch with the Salford Star saying they are owed thousands of pounds by Godliman Watson companies and that County Court Judgements have been issued, including visits from Bury County Court Bailiffs, with little success.
One local businessman put a figure of almost £4million owed in total by GWH, including monies to Salford Council and John Wilkinson, and other suppliers and consultants. A director of PDB Ltd, which was working on GWH's Albert Park View town house scheme on Great Clowes Street in Broughton, said that GWH director Robert Iain Watson had "left me and my family in a desperate financial situation" following the failure to pay him thousands of pounds, for what was the culmination of two years worth of work and drawings.
All building on the GWH Albert Park View development has now stopped, with houses a quarter complete, and there was nobody manning the site this week. The Star understands that GWH has made numerous staff redundant, some of whom are seeking redress over failed salary payments via employment tribunals. Meanwhile, phones are not being answered on GWH's official lines and the company has failed to return any Salford Star calls and emails.
While GWH Ltd is not officially in liquidation, it does appear to have ceased trading. Companies that are owed money told the Star that GWH is now looking to secure a CVA in respect of its debts.
Companies House records show that Godliman Watson Homes Ltd and another company, Godliman Watson Limited, have failed to produce accounts due last June, and annual returns due in October and August respectively.
Godliman Watson Homes has six outstanding charges against it, while Godliman Watson Limited has four outstanding charges against it.
Another company, Godliman and Watson Investments Ltd, also has accounts overdue since June and has eight outstanding charges against it.
Meanwhile a new company, Godliman Watson Holdings, was set up in December 2012, while Godliman Watson Property Services was brought out from being dormant in the same month. Both have members of the Watson family as directors including Iain Robert Watson, while an unincorporated company, Watson Homes, also seems to have appeared.
With such a chequered list of companies and history, it's amazing that Salford Council continued to bend over backwards both for Salford Reds and for Godliman Watson Homes…
Firstly the Council continued to support plans by Watson and John Wilkinson to turn the Mansion House in Buile Hill Park into a country hotel for five years, even extending expired planning permission despite, apparently, no actual money changing hands to secure a sale. All this while a £3million National Lottery bid to upgrade the park was rejected because of the hotel plans (see here)
And secondly, Salford Council agreed to waive Section 106 monies owed when GWH put in a planning application for a further six town houses to complete its Albert Park View development. From the original figure of £141,597 cited, GWH paid only £77,880.
The Section 106 charges were dropped because of financial `viability' issues, plus further reasoning that two listed buildings were brought back into use, and that "the proposed development would enhance the street scene and improve the current setting of these buildings".*
Thirdly, Godliman Watson Homes was further supported by Salford Council to create its Spark Studio on Great Clowes Street, with a £135,000 capital grant. Other public money for the project came via Europe (ERDF) £255,000; The University of Salford £150,000 (26 year lease of offices) and £650,000 from Contour Homes, via a £420,000 grant from the Government's Homes and Communities Agency.
Having received so much public money and favours, Godliman Watson, it seems, has not been passing on payments to its suppliers who are owed thousands of pounds.
"The debts owed to local people have been outstanding for many months, possibly years, long before GWH was taken into receivership" one local businessman told the Star "Is Mr Watson going to do the right thing and sell his own half million pound home to clear the remaining debt - debt which as Director of his companies, he was wholly responsible for accumulating?
"The alternative" he added "to dissolve the companies with all remaining debts left unpaid, is one that will cause great hardship, suffering, ill feeling and potentially further company bankruptcies for all the innocent parties caught up in this situation."
Meanwhile, Salford tax payers must be wondering if they will ever get back the £1million loan given to Salford Reds and secured by Robert Iain Watson's company's non-development at The Willows.
* Local business people originally involved in the Albert Park development are adamant that the planning application for the six town houses was submitted to Salford Council after work had actually begun on the properties several months earlier.
** The Salford Star understands that auditors are currently examining the circumstances surrounding Salford City Council dealings with Salford City Reds rugby club. So far, there have been no reports published.
See also previous Salford Star articles...
* Salford City Stadium loses Salford from its title (click here and scroll down for Willows details)
* Salford Council's Tangled Web of Loans and Deals with Salford City Reds and its Directors - click here
* Salford Star Loans Questions to Salford Council met with Jibes from Press Office - click here