Two plush South West holiday parks sold after firm goes bust

No.32 Hilton Woods Park, Whitstone
-Credit:Clive Emson

Two lavish holiday parks in the South West have been snapped up in a £16m deal following the collapse of the company that previously operated them, leaving it with considerable debts. The entire workforce at Dunkeswell's Hornbeam Country Park and Willow Bay Country Park in Whitstone, near Holsworthy, have been passed onto the new owners, but their takeover has left creditors £12m out of pocket.

Back in March, DevonLive reported that Exclusive Luxury Lodges Ltd, which also ran Aspen Country Park in Suffolk and Cherry Bird Country Park in Berkshire, entered administration, leaving its employees "in limbo". Now, however, recent plans from joint London-based PKF Littlejohn Advisory Ltd disclose that all four parks, along with some land and additional assets, have been sold to ELL Holdco Ltd in a pre-pack agreement.

Both ELL Holdco and Exclusive Luxury Lodges ultimately belong to the same parent company, RS Holdco 3 SARL. Despite being deemed the best solution by administrators and an impartial evaluator, this arrangement will likely leave creditors short by around £11.825m.

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Most of the financial shortfall will be shouldered by Luxembourg-based lender RS Lender IV SARL, which is set to receive just 60.48p for every pound owed. HM Revenue and Customs, on the other hand, stands to lose over £1 million in unpaid taxes, while unsecured creditors including some Devon businesses and potentially an unpaid Covid-era Bounce Back Loan are unlikely to recover the £312,288 they're owed.

According to documents submitted at Companies House: "It is anticipated there will be insufficient funds to pay a distribution to preferential and/or secondary preferential or unsecured creditors.", reports Devon Live.

Nestled within its own private estate adjacent to 40 acres of woodland, Hornbeam Country Park, not far from the Somerset border offers luxury lodges with prices reaching up to £519 for a five-night stay. The park itself has been valued at £4.4 million.

Willow Bay, situated near the Cornwall border, boasts 42 high-end lodges, available both for ownership and rental, with prices climbing to £595 for a week's stay. The property's valuation stands at £2.7 million. All lodge owners have been informed about the pre-pack arrangement.Exclusive Luxury Lodges was incorporated in 2019 after buying Walsham Chalet Park Ltd out of administration for nearly £12m in a pre-pack deal. It borrowed £26.453m from RS Lender IV SARL in 2021 with the Luxembourg company having a floating charge debenture over the parks and about 100 of their lodges.

In March the lender asked for repayment of the entire loan when Exclusive Luxury Lodges defaulted on the terms of the agreement. When the money was not paid before the deadline, the company was therefore insolvent, and administrators were appointed.

The administrators didn't think the business could be rescued as a going concern but could be sold which wouldn't get the lender all its cash back but would get it a better result than liquidating the business. Administrators continued to trade the holiday parks under the control of LT Management Services Ltd, which is operating each site.

The parks were already on sale before the administration but while offers had been made, no deal had been struck. Administrators considered the best option was a pre-pack sale to ELL Holdco Ltd, which took place on April 30, for £16.25m. Twenty two staff were told they would be transferred to ELL Holdco Ltd and 135 lodgeholders across all four parks were informed about the sale.

Independent evaluator Compass Evaluator Reports Ltd said: "The purchaser has indicated it will make a number of operational changes, including the appointment of an experienced and competent operator to manage operations going forward."

In addition to Hornbeam and Willow Bay, Aspen Country Park was valued at £3.250m and Cherry Bird Country Park at £1.7m. Land in Gloucester worth £100,000 was also included and 100 lodges valued at £1.289m, and with some other assets the sale was completed for £16.25m. But the lender will be left owed £10.453m and other creditors will receive nothing. The administration is continuing while administrators see if there is any other cash they can collect, but their proposals only need approval of the secured creditor.

Executive Luxury Lodges failed to submit accounts due at Companies House in December 2023. Its most recent accounts, for 2021, showed it made an operating profit of £262,913 for the year on turnover of £2,134,292. But this was down from the £394,486 profit and £2,706,998 turnover in 2020.