Wilson Bowden prepares for South-east housebuilding drive with purchase of Kent-based Ward Homes, and Raven Mount's hostile takeover bid for Swan Hill gets green light from institutional shareholders.
The ownership of Kent-based housebuilder Ward Homes and upmarket listed rival Swan Hill are changing after two major deals emerged last week.

Wilson Bowden has bought Ward for £70.2m, including an assumption of £41.6m of borrowings, to take advantage of the government's housing drive in the South-east.

Meanwhile, Raven Mount, a specialist management vehicle set up to take over the board of Swan Hill, has received the irrevocable backing of 52% of the company's shareholders to assume control.

Ian Robertson, chief executive of Wilson Bowden, said the company would take until January to decide the fate of Ward's 180 staff. Earlier this year the company bought Henry Boot Homes for £47.8m, including assumption of debt. The buyer kept on 80 staff out of 200, losing the remainder through a combination of redundancies and resignations.

However, Wilson Bowden intends to keep the Ward office in Kent as it does not have a significant presence there. This would give Wilson Bowden enough staff and land holdings to meet the government's demands for growth in the Thames Gateway and Ashford growth areas.

Robertson said: "We've never been particularly strong in Kent but this gives us options with the government's growth drive. The consultation process will go into January so that we can get through our own year-end results period."

Ward managing director David Holliday and fellow executive board member Mike Williams left the company on Friday, as did two non-executives representing former shareholders Royal Bank of Scotland and venture capitalist Phildrew. Holliday and Williams are said to have flown to Australia to watch England beat France in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup.

Wilson Bowden's move is part of its aim to acquire land through corporate activity. Ward's landbank includes nearly 2000 plots, with a further 689 on which terms have been agreed but no contractual arrangements have been entered into. Ward also builds about 400 homes a year.

We’ve never been strong in Kent but it gives us options with the government growth drive

Ian Robertson, Wilson Bowden

Last week, Wilson Bowden spent £24m on Frenchay Developments, a special purpose vehicle that only holds a 24-acre site next to the M4 corridor east of Bristol with capacity for around 500 homes.

Raven Mount has effectively been given the all-clear to take over the management of Swan Hill. Four major institutional shareholders, including Schroeder Investment Management, representing 51.6% of the company, have agreed to the £46.8m hostile bid.

Shareholders would swap a Swan Hill share for one Raven Mount share, and would transfer the firm from full to an AIM listing.

Last Wednesday only one institution had given irrevocable backing; the other three had only granted letters of intent to back the move. However, within 24 hours these were made irrevocable – meaning existing management, led by chief executive John Theakston, did not have time to seek an alternative offer or pursue other ways of adding to its value.

A spokesperson for the Swan Hill team said: "Swan Hill management is disappointed it didn't get the opportunity to put an alternative route forward."

Raven Mount is now looking for the Swan Hill board to recommend the offer, so that the remainder of the shareholders fall into line and accept the new management. Raven Mount has until 17 December to get approval from 90% of shareholders to confirm the deal.

The new management team includes Anton Bilton, founder and chief executive of the Raven Group, which specialises in residential housing development. Another director is Glyn Hirsch, executive chairman of listed real estate firm Property Fund Management.