Marinas - Going, going, gone?

October 2018 - In the past week or two Canal& River Trust’s response to questions about whether it has sold BWML and its 18 marinas has changed from ‘We’ll tell you when it happens’ to ‘all I can say is we are in final discussions with a preferred bidder and an announcement about the disposal will be made in due course’.

Meanwhile, leaks within the C&RT owned marina operation say that the new buyer is MDL Marinas, the owner of 18 UK Marinas along the south and east coasts and on the Thames. These include yacht marinas at Brixham, Chatham, on the Hamble and the up-market Ocean Village marina in the heart of Southampton. MDL also owns Windsor marina on the Thames and marinas in Italy and Spain. Peter Underwood has been checking out the family behind MDL marinas.

MDL is owned by Yattendon Group, a private company owned by the Iliffe family. The group is made up of four operating businesses covering a range of sectors including local media, agriculture, property and marinas. It has operations in the UK, Europe and Canada. The Group’s head office is based in Yattendon Village which forms the heart of the Iliffe’s Yattendon Estate in Berkshire.

The Illiffe family are best known as newspaper proprietors, a sort of provincial Harmsworths, owners of the Daily Mail. Their 38 newspapers are run from offices in Cambridge and are mostly local weeklies in the East of England.

Baron Iliffe is a title created in 1933 for the newspaper magnate Sir Edward Illiffe, a Tory MP who at one stage also owned the Birmingham Post and Mail and part of the Daily Telegraph.

Since 2010 the title is held by his grandson, the third Baron, who succeeded his uncle in 1996. He is the current Commodore of The Royal Yacht Squadron on the Isle of Wight. Lord Iliffe, 73, and the rest of the Iliffe family holds an estimated fortune of £297m through media and property. according to the 2018 Sunday Times Rich List.

The Iliffe’s are not keen on paying taxes or paying their journalists. A tax avoidance scheme used by the regional newspaper publisher was quashed by a tribunal ruling in favour of the revenue authorities in the early 2,000’s.

The tax tribunal heard that senior executives at Yattendon had sought to make the highly profitable positions of their newspapers (one being the most profitable in the country) more opaque for three reasons.

One: to deter rival newspapers from launching free editions to capture a slice of the lucrative advertising spend. Two: to conceal from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) the company's successful financial position. Three: to create a more favourable tax position from the restructure.

Legislative changes were made in December 2005 in a bid to stop such schemes operating.

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing and, four years ago Edward Iliffe, current chief executive of Yattendon Group, won seven figure damages from a builder following the fire that destroyed his £4million eco-home; burnt to cinders on a castaway island in Poole Harbour, off the Dorset coast which he bought for £2.5m.

The Honourable Edward Iliffe, 45, had bought Green Island, across the water from the millionaires’ playground of Sandbanks, and planned to develop a luxury holiday home.

It would seem that MDL marinas and its owners are accustomed to the millionaire lifestyle and charges at it’s coastal marinas are among the most expensive in the country.

Even BWML’s efforts to consistently push mooring charges to the maximum the market will bear, pale in comparison.

If the rumours are right Baron Iliffe and his merry men are about to burst onto the inland waterways, the resulting impact on some of our biggest marinas and the boaters using them may be wallet-crunching.

Photos: (1st) MDL Marinas website, (2nd) Sawley Marina - HQ of BWML, (3rd) Ocean Village - MDL's upmarket marina in Southampton, (4th) The first Baron Iliffe - a Tory newspaper publisher and MP between the wars, (5th) Edward Iliffe, current Chief Executive of Yattendon Group.

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