Friday 21 September 2018

'Ulterior motive' for Harcourt winding-up threat, court told

Harcourt founder Pat Doherty
Harcourt founder Pat Doherty

Tim Healy

A Dublin-based property development company has asked the High Court for an order preventing a UK firm seeking to have it wound up over a disputed debt of £2m (€2.27m).

Harcourt, which says it is not insolvent and employs more than 800 people, brought proceedings against UK-based Crest Nicholson (South West) which it alleges is "improperly" threatening to have it wound up.

Harcourt claimed Crest Nicholson has "an ulterior motive" in seeking to have it put into liquidation.

The Irish firm claims the petition is an attempt to force it to sell lands in England, which the parties previously agreed to develop, to Crest at a significant undervalue.

Yesterday, Harcourt's counsel Martin Hayden told the court that the case had arisen out of a dispute over a Joint Landowners Agreement (JLA) to develop a site near Bristol. Harcourt entered into a JLA in 2006 with two entities - Muben Investments, which held a leasehold interest on part of the Bristol lands, and Crest Nicholson which owned adjoining property, he said.

The JLA was to develop the site into housing. The relationship broke down in 2015, and Crest sought to terminate the JLA, he said.

The dispute went before an expert for determination.

Counsel said Harcourt believed it had resolved matters with Crest in 2017. Part of that agreement involved payments to Crest for costs incurred on the development.

Harcourt, counsel said, has made payments totalling £1.8m to Crest.

Counsel said that Crest failed to provide Harcourt with vital information it requires to progress the development.

Last month, counsel said, Crest made a demand on Harcourt for a payment of £2m - which was described as an attempt to engage in a form of disputed debt collection which it is not entitled to do.

The threat of a winding-up petition was an attempt to force the Irish company to sell its interest in the development to Crest, he claimed.

Ms Justice Carmel Stewart granted Harcourt permission to serve at short notice its injunction proceedings on Crest.

The application was made on an ex-parte (one side only represented) basis and the case comes back today.

Irish Independent

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