Ashursts property team bags British Waterways PPP work

Ashurst Morris Crisp's real estate team has been appointed to advise British Waterways on its major property public-private partnership scheme following a beauty parade in December.

British Waterways, the public corporation responsible for the UK's 2,000-mile waterway network, has invited interested parties to join a joint venture project aimed at establishing the organisation as a major national player in property regeneration. It has a property portfolio worth in excess of £300m.

The new scheme is being developed with Partnership UK (PUK), the Government's partnership development vehicle.

As a public body, constrained against borrowing investment capital, British Waterways is unable to maximise the development potential of the waterway network. The new joint venture will enable Briti

sh Waterways to take a greater stake in developments alongside waterways, and thus maximise the income for reinvestment in improving and conserving the inland waterway network.

The Ashursts team is led by real estate partners Anthony Burnett-Scott and Ian Nisse, assisted by senior solicitor Hugh Lumby. Partners Sue Crawford and Jan Sanders are leading teams covering tax and corporate strategy. Matthew Hall, a senior solicitor in Ashursts' Brussels office, is advising on EC procurement issues.

Burnett-Scott says: “This is an exciting and innovative project. It's like a public-private partnership but very different to the usual PFI, which relates to a specific discreet project. This is much more like a corporate joint venture between a statutory corporation and the private sector. It's countrywide rather than site-specific. What this is most similar to is the London Underground property partnership in which we're advising Chelsfield and Nelson Bakewell on their joint bid.”

The aim of the firm is to select a partner by the end of August and to reach commercial close by the end of the year.

Tax partner Crawford adds: “There'll be a number of regulatory issues which we'll have to keep an eye on because of British Waterways' status as a statutory corporation.” The team will be looking at competition issues and will have to consider whether or not Government grants to the public-private partnership contravene European Commission regulations.

Crawford adds: “Because stamp duty is 4 per cent on real estate, we'll be working to keep tax costs to a minimum.”