First published in The Herald on 3 August 2019
INVESTORS are being warned to steer clear of an investment scheme that promises to pay returns of 11 per cent a year to anyone willing to fork out £25,000 for a space in a Glasgow airport car park.
Property investment business Aston Darby, which has been renovating the My Easy Park site on Paisley’s Harbour Road since last year, has a total of 1,050 spaces up for grabs and is in negotiations to acquire another 500-space site in the vicinity in the near future.
Investors are being promised the first two years’ worth of income – £5,500 – upfront as soon as they hand their cash over, with Aston Darby guaranteeing the 11% return for at least three years. It also says it will buy back any unwanted spaces after five years for the full amount paid or for 125% of the amount invested – £31,250 per space – after ten.
The problem is, neither the business or any of the agents selling the deal in return for commissions of up to 10% are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), meaning every penny invested would be lost if anything went wrong. Worse still, neither the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Financial Services Compensation Scheme would be able to help.
For Kevin Hollinrake, the Conservative co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, this should be enough to put investors off, particularly as a similar scheme run by a company called Park First recently went bust.
“Unfortunately, the only people who get rich with some of these schemes are the promoters,” Mr Hollinrake said.
“Investors lost heavily in similar schemes at Park First as these parking scheme investments are unregulated.
“I understand that this new scheme offers even more lucrative headline returns, but this has to be taken in the context that if the operators go bust then you’ve lost the lot.”
Investors in the Park First scheme, which offered returns of between 8% and 12% on spaces sold for £20,000 each, are finding this out to their cost.
The company – which operated 6,000 parking spaces across the Direct Parking, Skyport, Park N’ Fly, Park Fast, SwiftPark and Park Safe car parks next to Glasgow Airport – ran into financial difficulty after being forced by the FCA to change the structure of its scheme.
With some investors opting to have their cash refunded as part of that restructure, Park First faced returning a large proportion of the £120 million it had raked in from investors.
Instead of doing so it placed the businesses running the car parks into administration last month, leaving investors – many of whom had poured their pension savings into the scheme – fearing all their money has been lost.
Although Park First was forced by the FCA to ringfence £32m from the sale of a Luton Airport car park for the benefit of investors, it is unclear how much money will remain in the pot once the administration process has run its course.
The FCA, meanwhile, said it “reserves the right” to take further action against Park First if required, adding that it “will do whatever we consider appropriate to protect investors’ interests”.
While a spokeswoman for the regulator said it could not comment on the Aston Darby scheme specifically, she indicated that the FCA views all unregulated investments as scams.
“I would like to point you to our ScamSmart campaign, which warns consumers about unregulated investment scams, which includes parking,” she said.
Aston Darby chief executive Leigh Heywood begs to differ.
Speaking from the company’s head office in Bolton, Mr Heywood said those who have so far bought into the Glasgow car park are “exceedingly happy with their car park and the service they are getting”.
He added that he does not believe his company’s scheme can be compared to the one that was offered by Park First.
“Our investors have control over their own investment,” he said. “Once the car park is built, we hand it over to investors – we make sure it is running and as successful as we can make it then we hand it over.
“We go out to tender, a number of companies bid then its up to the investors to vote on which car-park company they want to operate it. We pay the first two years’ [income] then whoever takes it over will be responsible for paying out the yield.”
Nevertheless, a member of the Facebook group Investors for Park First, who fears the £60,000 he paid for three spaces in 2016 has been wiped out due to the administration, is very clear about what anyone considering investing in the Aston Darby scheme should do.
“Don’t go near it,” he said.