Belfast Telegraph

Fall of the house of Taggart: construction company calls in administrators

From Sunday Times Rich List to company collapse... the downturn in the construction industry claims its most high profile victims yet

By Symon Ross and Robin Morton

Northern Ireland’s construction industry was dealt a hammer blow yesterday as property development company Taggart Holdings called in the administrators.

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Formerly one of Northern Ireland’s largest building companies, Belfast-based Taggart blamed its problems on the sharp slowdown in the property market.

The company, whose workforce has been cut from 150 to just 15 in the last 18 months, said administrators had been called in at the request of its bankers, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland.

The company’s co-founder Michael Taggart described the move, which will affect more than 25 sites in Northern Ireland and the Republic, as “deeply regrettable”.

“This is a sign of the seriousness of the crisis now facing the construction and property sector on these islands,“ he said in a statement.

Eighteen months ago, before the credit crunch took hold, Taggart Holdings was a flourishing property company with a staff of more than 150.

Garth Calow and Rob Birchall from PricewaterhouseCoopers have been appointed as administrators.

Mr Calow said: “Faced with changing market conditions, the group has experienced a lengthy period of significant financial difficulty, causing uncertainty for both staff and creditors.

“These appointments will now enable an orderly sale of business and assets, including the company's development sites and land portfolio.

“Our immediate priority is to carry out a full assessment of the financial position and trading activities of the companies in the UK and in Ireland and to formulate an appropriate strategy for the way forward.”

A spokesman for PwC said the administrators began meetings with the Taggart board yesterday to establish how much is owed to the firm’s creditors. Neither of Taggart’s banks was prepared to comment on the level of the company’s debts.

Sources indicate Taggart’s debt pile could amount to as much as £150m.

A number of the construction company’s sites in the Republic have also been placed in receivership, although the directors will continue to develop schemes in Mullingar, Navan and Luxembourg.

PwC will act as receivers for Taggart Homes Ireland and Taggart’s other Irish-registered companies.

Founded in Londonderry in 1989 by brothers Michael and John Taggart, the company was initially a building contractor in Northern Ireland. It expanded to include construction and development in Ireland, the UK, Eastern Europe and the US.

Michael Taggart became a well known figure in the Northern Ireland business community, famed for travelling by helicopter from Derry to Belfast for meetings. Last year he hired singers Lionel Richie and Van Morrison to play at his wedding.

In the past two years, the brothers found themselves featured in the Sunday Times Rich List in Ireland.

The company had experienced rapid growth through the recent property boom and was still buying large areas of land at the height of the market.

In 2006, in partnership with the private client arm of Goodbody Stockbrokers, it acquired Northern Ireland property company Fraser Estates for €150m and Cecil M.Yuill, one of the leading house building companies in North East England, for £60m.

However, the slowdown in the property market has seen the company lay off staff and attempt to restructure the business in the past year

Last month an attempt by Taggart to sell a 50% stake in its business to multi-millionaire Irish builder John McCann collapsed.

That deal was expected to involve an investment in excess of €100m based on an estimated value of Taggart Holdings’ land bank of £500m.

Belfast Telegraph