The colourful past of tycoon behind bid to transform old Pontins site
- Credit: Submitted
Dressed in a sharp suit and sitting in the plush passenger seat of a private aircraft, Graham Avery looks every inch the successful entrepreneur.
But the man behind a bid to build 280 homes and holiday lodges at the former Pontins site in Hemsby has been involved with several companies which have hit controversy.
Last September Mr Avery, from Nacton, and one of his businesses, PremiAir Aviation International Limited, was placed on a US Government list after allegedly falling foul of US sanctions on Iran.
The country has a ban on selling aircraft to Iranian aviation companies, as part of its long-standing punishment of the Islamic Republic’s regime.
But PremiAir Aviation, a company Mr Avery owns and is chief executive of, was involved in a scheme to sell aircraft to Iran, the US Government claimed. This was denied by Mr Avery who said he knew nothing about it.
A statement on the website of the US government’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), read: “These entities have been involved in a scheme to illicitly procure Bell 412 helicopters on behalf of Iranian end-user”.
They said the company and Mr Avery were “believed to be involved in, or to pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved in, activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States”.
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He and the company were added to the BIS’s “entity list” which places export restrictions on businesses.
But in response Mr Avery said PremiAir had been given “no explanation” about why it was on the list or had any contact with the US Government. The company denied ever dealing with Iran or breaching any US sanctions, adding it operated to “high ethical standards”.
Mr Avery said he was “concerned and surprised” by the “total lack of communication” from the BIS about the matter and the company would do whatever necessary to be removed from the list.
‘ConTV’ and India problems
During his career, the 75-year old has been involved in companies from a TV shopping channel, to jute mills in India.
In 2006 a firm he was chairman and a director of, One TV, was placed into administration and banned by Ofcom after selling products on a shopping channel which customers never received.
Hundreds of customers complained about paying for electronic items and goods which never arrived. The Daily Mail dubbed the station “ConTV”.
One review site received 500 complaints from customers claiming they were owed £40,000 in total.
The Advertising Standards Agency upheld 65 complaints against OneTV and in 2006 Ofcom revoked its licence, the Mail reported at the time.
The business was put into liquidation owing more than £1m.
Mr Avery was a minority shareholder and described in media reports at the time as its “boss”, but he said he was not involved in the day-to-day running of the company and was a non-executive chairman, meaning he only attended occasional meetings.
“I think the management over traded,” he said, to explain its problems. “I didn’t really get involved in it but my name was associated with it. It is really frustrating."
Four years before that, Mr Avery got into difficulties in India after a £50m hole was found in the accounts of a jute manufacturer he was chairman of, called Azmara. Shares in the company crashed by 80pc.
Mr Avery was also detained at an airport in New Delhi in March 2002 because of the company’s problems.
The Mail reported at the time that the businessman was detained by immigration officials because one of the jute mills owed the local government around £5.6m in unpaid pension contributions stretching back to 1971.
Mr Avery said it was a historic debt from before his time at the company and said the arrest was designed to “slur” him.
At the time, he described the arrest as a “smear campaign”, the Ipswich Star reported.
He was released the next day and returned to the UK. He resigned from the company later that year.
The plan for Hemsby
Mr Avery has named the new development at the old Pontin’s site 'The Pines' and on its website it states he has “bought, designed and built many developments over his 50-year career, including the award-wining Ufford Park Hotel, Golf Course and Spa”.
However, when we checked out this claim with the owners of Ufford Park Hotel - a resort near Woodbridge - they said its history was a little more complicated.
The site was bought and developed in the 1990s by a businessman called Colin Aldous and it remains in his family today. He bought it from the administrators after Mr Avery’s company, which owned the site previously, went into liquidation.
Mr Avery claimed that before the liquidation, which he said was caused by the collapse of a bank, the site was “80pc” complete.
“It was an issue of timing,” he claimed. “It was annoying. People even say to me today what a great job I did there.”
Mr Avery’s luck also ran out with another development in 2013, after he pledged to turn a small airport in Hampshire called Blackbushe into a “heliport” to serve the luxury London market.
Mr Avery said it failed because the Civil Aviation Authority would not give permission.
The businessman is a director of at least 21 different companies, most of them set up in the last couple of years, including Pine Developments Limited which now owns the Hemsby site.
It bought the land for £4m with a loan from an investment firm called SHP Capital Holdings. Its website says it has “successfully invested across several UK businesses”, including in the property sector.
We have contacted SHP Capital for comment.
Mr Avery said he had the investors needed to develop the site. “I’m doing a great thing for Hemsby,” he said. “I’m really pleased with it and it is going to be very successful. It has been a struggle but all the funding is in place.”
He added: “My aspect and motive of business is to create something that is good for everybody which I have done so throughout my business career.”
The 23-acre site already has planning permission for 193 houses, a static caravan site, and convenience store.
But Pine Developments say they want to build more than 280 homes in total, as well as three more shops, a leisure centre, a swimming pool, and a cafe.
The homes would be made up of 91 holiday homes and 188 residential houses, as well as 38 wooden lodges. However, the company does not yet have planning permission for the additional proposed development.
Norfolk County Council’s highways department has raised concerns about the latest plans, saying the scale of the drawings submitted is "not acceptable" and had raised a list of queries about the road layout.
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