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The £1billion labourer: Ulster tycoon who lost property empire is back working on building site

By Greg Harkin

Published 01/06/2015

Michael Taggart operating a digger at the building site in Limavady
Michael Taggart operating a digger at the building site in Limavady
Michael Taggart with one of his workers at the building site
Michael Taggart in his days as a wealthy property developer

A property developer once named Ireland's richest man and who lost his property empire in the economic crash is back working on a building site.

Michael Taggart (48) is starting all over again after a seven-year legal battle with Ulster Bank.

The father-of-four from Drumsurn in Co Londonderry has opened the first showhouse on a development in Northern Ireland in eight years, and now he plans to build 82 homes and says he has already sold 20 of them off plans.

The developer was the 2007 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and was named by newspapers that year as Ireland's richest man, with an estimated personal wealth topping £1bn.

But within two years his worldwide empire was gone.

He blamed Ulster Bank and last month he completed 16 days in the witness box in a 31-day High Court action in Belfast against the bank.

Michael Taggart and his brother John were seeking tens of millions of pounds in damages from Ulster Bank.

In a counter-claim, the bank lodged writs for £5m and €4.3m it alleges the brothers owe in personal guarantees over land purchases in Kinsealy, north Co Dublin, and in Northern Ireland.

The Taggart brothers claim they turned down multi-million pound offers for properties in England in 2007 after allegedly being assured by Ulster Bank they didn't need to sell any of their portfolio.

However, internal bank documents produced for the recent hearing showed internal worries about the Taggarts, but it was claimed that these were never passed to them.

A judge is expected to issue a ruling in the case before the end of June after the landmark legal case.

In his evidence, Michael Taggart told how he started off in construction at the age of 16, overseeing his first development sites in the Derry area in the late 1980s.

Alongside his bricklayer brother John, he set up the Taggart Group, which included more than 70 companies by the time it went into administration in 2008.

Speaking at the weekend at his first new site in eight years, Mr Taggart said he was "just delighted" to be back "doing what I've always done".

"I started like this more than two decades ago with £1,500 and I've never been afraid of a day's work," he said.

"The development is financed by investors. I have a proven track record and have delivered more than 8,000 homes to the market since we started out and that's what I have started again.

"At the end of the day we have two choices which is sit and do nothing or get up and get moving; fortunately I am as determined to succeed as ever and intend to do it all again now that the legal case has been heard."

He added: "We'll see what happens with the (Ulster Bank) case in the next few weeks, however I will continue to grow the family business from the bottom upwards regardless. We have done it before, we will do it again, only I am a lot wiser and experienced."

The Plantation View development in Limavady consists of 82 homes priced from £125,000 to £250,000.

"We are averaging a sale a day at the moment," said Taggart.

But he warns that the housing crisis in Dublin looks set to continue.

"I've had contact from people with opportunities to look at in the market there [in Dublin] but right now, I'm committed to getting this one off the ground first," he said.

"The problem in Dublin now is not about finance or sites, there appears to be a lack of professional developers out there experienced in large-scale development.

"So many developers were wiped out in the downturn, others had their lives destroyed and some had mental breakdowns and never recovered from what happened to them," he added.


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