By Marcus Leach

On Friday, 9 December 2011, the Financial Services Authority (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. Mr Justice Peter Smith ordered Cityshore and Walker to make an interim repayment of £200,000 through the FSA, to their victims. They have also been banned for life from selling land by way of business in the UK.

Earlier this year, as part of the same case, a manager of Cityshore, Ashley Cunningham consented to a similar ban and an order requiring her to pay to the FSA sums received by her for her participation in the business.

Cityshore sold plots of land in Grantham, Lincolnshire, to investors on the promise they would make a significant profit when the land ultimately obtained planning permission and was sold on. In fact, the land was in an area which meant it was unlikely to gain planning permission.

Cityshore’s customers were told by the company’s sales staff that they had already applied for planning permission for the land or that they had well-known house-builders lined up to purchase the plots. In reality, Cityshore had no intention of seeking planning permission or helping purchasers sell their land.

Cityshore was stopped by an initial injunction obtained by the FSA in January 2011 after the firm had made sales of land totaling over £400,000 at a significant profit.

The FSA does not regulate the sale of land but land banking amounts to collective investment, something that requires FSA authorisation. Cityshore was never authorised by the FSA so its land sales were illegal.

“This is a further example of the FSA taking action against unauthorised land banking firms and the individuals behind them," Jonathan Phelan, head of retail enforcement 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 eight firms involved in land banking. Most recently, in November this year, in a separate case the FSA executed search warrants on nine premises in Kent and Greater London and five individuals were arrested.

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