Belfast Telegraph

Transparency urged as extent of Nama's property portfolio emerges

By Margaret Canning

Toxic bank Nama has been urged to be more transparent in its dealings with the large swathes of property that it owns in Northern Ireland.

The National Asset Management Agency (Nama), known as the Republic’s bad bank, has become one of the biggest property owners in the province.

As such, it decisions on selling off land and buildings — and at what price — have a significant influence on our fragile property market and its attempts to recover. Concerns have been raised that the Dublin-based Nama — which has not updated a figure for sales in Northern Ireland since October of last year — does not provide enough detail on its business north of the border.

The Belfast Telegraph has extensively searched the revamped website of Nama and the details it gives of repossessed property in Northern Ireland which it is selling or managing through estate agents and receivers.

Nama was set up to cleanse the Irish banking system of toxic loans taken out with Ireland-registered banks on property which later fell in value — and in many cases, is still falling in value.

If all is well, the owner of a property bought with money from an Irish bank can present a business plan, which, if accepted by Nama, enables it to continue managing the site.

But where a developer has run out of money or gone bankrupt, he will not be able to reach a business plan so that Nama repossesses the site, ie takes enforcement action. The list of enforced properties on the Nama website does not give details of the other properties on its books. Therefore, Nama’s reach in Northern Ireland and beyond stretches far beyond the list.

The list does reveal all parts of Northern Ireland to be pockmarked with repossessed sites, but at around 100 out of 152, counties Down and Antrim account for around two-thirds.

Down has the biggest number at 66, while Armagh is the least ‘Nama-fied’ with only four sites being repossessed by Nama.

In total Nama absorbed loans of £3bn related to sites and properties in Northern Ireland, and, out of that, it has achieved sales of €43m (£34m), according to figures released last October. The agency said there was no update, suggesting that no major sales have been made since.

Properties are as varied as the former Tyrone Crystal factory in Dungannon and an Aga lifestyle rural home in Co Down.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson represents an area which has been ‘Nama-fied’ to the hilt and said the agency’s conduct was crucial in the future of the property market.

“Nama has become a very large landowner in Northern Ireland and any rejuvenation of the property industry and market will be highly influenced by the performance of Nama,” said the DUP man.

“In order to have any confidence in what it does, transparency has to play a vital role in Nama.”

He said quarterly updates of any sales which it had achieved would be welcome.

Mr Donaldson said he had visited the site of Belsize Meadows, an unfinished ‘ghost’ estate in Lisburn which was now part of the Nama family.

“Given the fact that many of those developments are unfinished, residents have the right to expect that will be transparency in the process of selling unfinished sites,” he said.

Lisburn is also the home of another estate, Beechfield Mews, which is now in Nama.

David McNellis, agency director at Lisney, said Nama had been less active than expected but added that there had been sales of “some smaller properties”.

“It remains challenging to dispose of land, particularly in Northern Ireland, but as we move forward we would anticipate that some of the more substantial (Nama-held) assets will come to the market,” he said.

Estate agents in the Nama county said buyers were not being put off by the Nama factor. “So long as they are good properties, then people will want them,” said one.

But another took a dimmer view: “I would almost see Nama as like an absentee landlord.

“They have such a vast range of properties that they seem to have difficulties in grasping the localised problems that are there.

“They treat everyone with a certain amount of scepticism. There’s no great urgency in trying to sell anything.”

What is Nama?

The Irish Government set up Nama to flush out toxic loans on property from the banking system — otherwise Irish banks could have been brought down by the plummeting value of property on which it had issued loans. After it was set up in late 2009 Nama began to gradually absorb the banks’ loans on property, eventually taking on loans with a face value of €77bn (£61bn). The loans were swapped in return for €32bn (£24bn) in state-backed bonds. Nama has had accusations of secrecy because it is exempt from the Republic’s Freedom of Information Act. It has an intended life span of 10 years to sell or manage the property on its books so that it gets the best return for the the Irish tax payer. Around 54% of Nama’s portfolio is in the Republic, 34% in Britain and 4% in Northern Ireland.

Overgrown mansion a sign of tough times

By Louise Small

It's known to some as ‘Namatown’ given the amount of property the toxic bank owns in Dromore.

And properties previously owned by bankrupt developer Sam Thompson are still on the market in Co Down for knock-down prices.

Nama took hold of Sam Thompson’s buildings — spanning mansions and unfinished apartments — after he was declared bankrupt.

Anglo Irish Bank is said to be pursuing Mr Thompson for personal debts of up to £90m.

His businesses included Thompson Developments, Redcliff Properties and Ballybreeze Estates — it is thought they owe more than £100m collectively.

Fred Dalzell estate agents has been dealing with many of the Thompson properties under the instructions of McClure Watters who are acting as receiver.

The once illustrious-looking Brooke Hall is a reminder of the difficult times we are in. The seven-bedroomed pile on the Annaghabane Road has a triple garage and extensive lounge areas — but its grounds appear overgrown.

The 7,750 sq ft property was put on the market last year at a knock-down price of £400,000, after it was previously expected to reach £1m.

It is understood there has been strong interest in the Cambric Court apartments in Dromore. Originally priced at just under £105,000 prices have been slashed to £85,000.

£96m development site now worth £8m

By Margaret Canning

Brothers Michael and John Taggart, from Co Londonderry, made an uncomfortable journey from Sunday Times Rich List to Nama list of enforced properties.

The Taggarts were poster boys of the property boom, their companies having a turnover of £165m just 20 years after Michael Taggart bought his first plot of land.

Their lavish lifestyle inspired many rumours, the juiciest (and most denied) that Lionel Richie played at Michael’s wedding in 2007.

Their businesses collapsed in the crash in 2008 when values plummeted most dramatically and three years later, a site of 96 acres which Taggarts bought with Anglo Irish Bank finance, is on Nama’s books.

But instead of being for sale, accountants in Dublin are looking for ‘expressions of interest’ about the Millmount site in Dundonald.

It was valued at the peak of the housing market at around £1m per acre — but it’s estimated the current value would be no more than £8m in total.

A DoE spokesman confirmed the application was still being considered.

Michael Rodgers of Rodgers and Browne Estate Agents in Holywood, Co Down, said it was surprising that the Millmount site was not being explicitly marketed for sale.

“How is it possible to get any sensible figure for it if it’s not being properly publicised through all avenues?” he said.

A Nama spokesman said it was the best way of getting a return for the site.

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