HUGH Osmond, the entrepreneur who built up Pizza Express and Punch Taverns, today confirmed his interest in a takeover of housebuilder Crest Nicholson.
Mr Osmond’s Horizon acquisition vehicle is in talks with debt-laden Crest, along with several other companies as it looks to complete a single deal.
The approach, which is thought to value Crest at around £350 million, could result in the first big acquisition in the industry since the start of the recession. Speculation that it could also spark a wave of further activity led to a rise in housebuilding shares today.
Horizon is flush with cash after raising more than £400 million in a stock market listing earlier this year. It tabled its proposal at a meeting of Crest’s 40 banks last week.
The developer’s main lender is Lloyds Banking Group, which took control of Crest last year through a debt-for-equity swap.
It is understood that Horizon wants a commitment from the banks that they will consider selling other property firms and land portfolios that have come under their control.
Crest, which operates in the South East, South West and the Midlands, builds around 2,000 homes a year. It was previously owned through a joint venture between HBOS and Sir Tom Hunter, the Scottish entrepreneur.
The consortium bought the firm for £1.2 billion in 2007 - close to the peak of the housing market - in a deal that was paid for almost entirely through debt financing.
Lloyds, which acquired HBOS in September 2008, later wrote off £630 million of Crest’s debt in return for a 90% stake in the Chertsey, Surrey-based company.
The proposed Crest takeover is one of several projects across a range of sectors being considered by Horizon.
Mr Osmond said at the time of Horizon’s City fundraising in February: "Today there are fundamentally good companies which have fundamentally poor capital structures, because of the weight of their debt.
"For them, refinancings are expensive elastoplast. The need is to restructure their balance sheets and support management and investment for growth. This need is urgent, and it is Horizon’s aim to undertake just this with the business we acquire."