By Marcus Leach

On Tuesday, 20 December 2011, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) secured interim injunctions and freezing orders from the High Court against amongst others St Clair Estates Limited, OFG Investments Limited, Option Land UK Limited, and GIG Properties Limited.

The effect of the orders is to prevent any of the above companies from selling plots on a particular site of land pending further investigation by the FSA and the conclusion of ongoing civil proceedings. The FSA took this action because it suspects that these companies were running a land banking operation which amounted to an unauthorised collective investment scheme.

The firms are believed to have marketed plots of land on a site at Winkleigh Airfield in Devon. The FSA has frozen approximately £850,000 which is believed to derive from customer investments.

Anyone who believes that they may have been contacted by a land banking operation or any other unauthorised financial services provider can call the FSA’s consumer helpline for guidance: 0845 606 1234.

The FSA does not regulate the sale of land but land banking often amounts to collective investment, something that requires FSA authorisation. None of the above companies is authorised by the FSA.

“This is a further example of the FSA taking action to protect consumers from unauthorised land banking firms and the individuals behind them," Jonathan Phelan, head of unauthorised business at the FSA said.

“Anybody investing in land should always have it independently valued to check its worth. Furthermore, if you are ever sold land as an investment, and on the basis that someone else will manage it for you as part of a wider site, you should seek the advice of a firm that is authorised by the FSA.”

The FSA first took High Court action against a land banking firm — UK Land Investments Limited — in 2008. Since then the FSA has obtained injunctions against nine firms involved in land banking. Most recently, on Friday, 9 December 2011, the FSA secured a summary judgment in the High Court against Cityshore Commodities Limited (Cityshore) and its director Aaron Walker.

The judgment confirmed that Cityshore sold land illegally to UK consumers. In November this year, in a separate land banking case, the FSA executed search warrants on nine premises in Kent and Greater London and five individuals were arrested.

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