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Article first published in the ACES ‘The Terrier’ magazine in Spring 2010

Taking the money

‘Last hand of the night.’

I piled £500-worth of chips onto my space at the Blackjack table. The other players, in their dinner suits and evening gowns, nudged each other and pointed.  ‘All or nothing’ commented one. They were also lumping everything on but with smaller totals. I gave them a wry smile and waited for the cards to fall.

***

In the last Terrier, in “Paying the Price revisited”, Stuart Mitchell and I posed the question ‘Where exactly does a valuation end and a premium payment begin?’  We were investigating the potential to pay over and above market value in Local Authority transactions where this seemed justified, based on Alan Pickles’ article “Paying the Price” published in the September 1999 edition of the Terrier.  Our concern was about the lack of statutory guidance on value when Compulsory Powers were not to be used for acquisitions of land.  This could be where powers might not be available or where there was no time to wait for confirmation of those powers or if the chances of obtaining confirmation were small.  That situation could prevent progress on schemes where large amounts of capital spending were to be released, say for a regeneration project, when time-scales were tight.

***

Hayton Winkley Solicitors’ “Casino Night” had provided an enjoyable evening of networking. The hotel was comfortable, the company was pleasant and the nourishment was free.  You couldn’t really ask for much more … but I wanted more. I wanted the glory of being the biggest winner of the night.

***

Stuart and I couldn’t find an answer to the question from our research into the various statues.  So we decided to raise it at the upcoming ACES North-West Branch meeting.  No-one else knew the answer either. It seemed that most of the NW representatives adopted a common-sense approach and just gambled on being right.  The comments varied as follows:

  • Isn’t what you are paying, even if higher than a conventional market valuation, just market value anyway?
  • Surely the value to a special purchaser can be reflected as market value?
  • If you are paying over the odds but the Authority gains a considerable financial saving on the scheme then surely any challenge would be laughed out of court?
  • Perhaps the answer should be to take it out of the Valuer’s hands and make it a corporate decision – but would that decision be ultra-vires?
  • If it is to be a corporate decision then perhaps it should be backed by a legal opinion – but has anyone ever obtained such an opinion?
  • Use options to purchase under the compensation code with the option fee netted off against the final compensation amount. This would introduce certainty to the process and so avoid abortive expense, say where the last interest to be acquired holds out for an over-the-odds payment; but didn’t that still hinge on agreeing the basis for settlement in advance?
  • Why not justify the payment on the basis that it would avoid Lands Tribunal costs?

***

For the first half of the evening I’d bet small amounts and lost. It seemed that the Dealer had all the luck as, time after time, his final card would consistently top mine by one point.  If I stuck on nineteen then he would draw twenty.  If I drew twenty then he would draw twenty-one.  My initial £200 stake shrank to about £50. I retired for supper and convivial conversation with some of the other guests, convinced that I’d soon be standing there with empty pockets, reduced to watching the real gamblers amassing a small fortune.

***

The debate at the NW Branch meeting was re-assuring.  If no-one knew the answer then at least Stuart and I hadn’t asked a daft question.  But how could we get that answer?

***

My reluctant return to the table produced an almost surreal change. From the very first hand I saw the cards turn in my favour.  Still betting small – I couldn’t quite believe at the outset that my luck would continue – I recovered my initial stake. The winning didn’t stop there.  It just went on and on.

***

The debate also produced the possibility of opening up the subject to a wider audience.

  • The DVS representative promised to raise the issue with the Valuation Liaison Group and report back.
  • National comments from ACES Members could be invited via the Terrier article and by a posting in the website Forum under the subject heading of “L.A. Acquisitions and Premiums”
  • Watson Burton Solicitors would be invited to provide a paper on the legal perspective for the Terrier.

Hopefully those sources might help to shed some light on the subject or at least help to share experiences and working solutions.

***

‘Last hand of the night.’

My first card was an Ace – a good start.

The dealer looked at me.  I nodded…Two.

The delegate standing next to me muttered ‘Lucky devil’.

Again the dealer looked at me … and again I nodded…Eight.

I couldn’t lose but how much would I win?  A Twenty-one pay-out at 2 to 1 would leave me with £1500 provided he didn’t match me, in which case I would only be paid out at Evens. The odds were stacked in my favour now. The rules obliged him to stick once he’d reached eighteen or above … and he could still bust.  He started to deal his own hand.

This networking lark is easy.  You don’t have to work the room, endlessly thrusting the name of the company into every conversation.  Just win big at Blackjack.  The delegates may not have heard of the NPS Group at the beginning of that night but, by the time I’d been presented with the prize bottle of champagne for the most winnings, everybody in the room had heard of it. And that probably involved less gambling than trying to decide what to pay for local authority land without compulsory purchase powers or guidance.

©David Lewis Pogson 2010

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