A developer behind some of the most high-profile building projects in Northern Ireland has revealed that he is battling to avoid financial meltdown.
The Carvill Group operates in Northern Ireland and the Republic, Scotland, England and Germany and is in discussions with creditors with a view to entering a ‘Creditor’s Voluntary Arrangement’ (CVA).
A CVA means that an insolvent business which can’t pay its debts immediately can make regular monthly payments into a fund for creditors, if given breathing space.
However, the firm said it hoped that homebuyers and building projects will not be affected. Managing director Christopher Carvill has apologised to creditors and customers.
“Due to economic pressures The Carvill Group is entering discussions with its creditors about a CVA process,” he said.
“We recognise the difficulty that this course of action will have for our creditors and can only apologise for having to do it.
“There have been positive discussions with the banks and we anticipate that they will fully support the process.
“It is our intention that we do not disrupt existing contracts to purchase homes on our projects.
“We will be continuing to pursue planning permissions for our projects and onward development of them.”
In operation for over 60 years, the group is behind the £600m Sirocco Quay project.
The scheme was launched in 2007 and promised 5,000 apartments on the 16-acre waterfront site formerly occupied by the old ropeworks.
A world trade and convention centre, hotels, childcare facilities, a care home for the elderly, a supermarket and doctors' surgery were also included in the plans.
At the time Mr Carvill said that the project would turn a former industrial corner of Belfast into “one of the UK's most vibrant investment opportunities” and would herald hundreds of construction jobs and over 2,000 |permanent jobs on completion
Outline planning permission for the project, the last site in the city centre with river frontage, was secured in 2010; the site has been cleared and construction is due to begin this year.
Woodbrook, a planned ‘sustainable village community’ in Lisburn was hailed by the company as “one of the most inspirational developments in the UK right now”.
There were also ambitious plans for over 1,000 houses at Annadale Embankment, and Carvill was also awarded the contract to redevelop the iconic Ross Thompson site in Newry city centre.
Additionally, the firm has two projects in the north east of England, three in Scotland and four in Germany, including a development of 400 homes.
The news that one of Northern Ireland’s most progressive house builders is in difficulties signals more bad news for the local economy.
The property crash of recent years has had many casualties with everyone from well-established construction companies hitting the wall to home-owners caught in a negative equity trap.
The Carvill Group, however, headed up by managing director Christopher Carvill, seemed to be riding out the storm thanks to its innovative, stylish and affordable properties.
High-profile schemes such as trendy apartments at The Embankment in south Belfast and the province’s first eco-village Woodbrook had buyers flocking in while other developments struggled for sales.
Mr Carvill, who is also one of the company’s largest individual shareholders, according to a Times Literary Supplement report in 2008, is passionate about creating ultra-modern, affordable homes with the very latest in green technology.
Before any of the ambitious schemes — including one of Carvill’s biggest, Sirocco Quay in Belfast, which was set to feature 5,000 apartments, retail space, a five-star hotel and restaurants among other things — were launched several years ago Mr Carvill called me to talk about the importance of sustainability in the housing market.
He said a team from The Carvill Group had travelled extensively in Germany to look at house-building there in a bid to bring back the most cutting-edge design and technology to the construction sector here.
And the bold approach worked for a while, with stories of sales success at both housing schemes in Woodbrook and Annadale. However, the £600m plans for Sirocco now look in danger, with the site lying derelict after being cleared of the former factory building. Carvill bought the 16-acre site in September 2006 from William Ewart Properties and joint venture partner Snoddens for around £40m in a record price for a development site. Five years later, not one brick has been laid.
A company such as The Carvill Group brought innovation and investment to not only the construction sector, but countless other trades, from the architects who dream up the kind of homes we want to live in to the builders who turn their drawings into reality.