Intu’s plea for last gasped government help runs into criticism


Intu Properties has been criticised for seeking government support after it emerged that its deputy chairman’s property empire had received about £280 million in dividends in recent years.

Last week the shopping centres group, which owns Lakeside in Essex, said that it was in talks with the government and could seek to access some of the £330 billion of state-backed loans and guarantees for companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Intu, which has £4.5 billion of debts, was on the brink of collapse before the virus took hold. It received only 29 per cent of rents due from tenants this month, compared with 77 per cent a year ago, after the government told retailers that they could defer rent for three months without facing eviction.

Research has found that Peel Group, run by John Whittaker, Intu’s deputy chairman, had received almost £280 million in dividends since 2011.

Peel is Intu’s biggest shareholder with a 27 per cent stake that it built up after selling the Trafford Centre in Manchester for shares in 2011. The Whittaker family trust owns 75 per cent of Peel, while the rest is owned by Olayan Group, a Saudi Arabian investor.

Mr Whittaker, 77, lives in the Isle of Man and commutes to his office in the Trafford Centre by helicopter. According to The Sunday Times Rich List Mr Whittaker and his family are worth £1.95 billion.

Luke Hildyard, executive director of the High Pay Centre, said: “This crisis will force policymakers and business leaders to acknowledge the massive flaws with the UK’s corporate governance system.

“Wealthy investors and executives can take vast sums of money out of companies like Intu without regard for the future, then use the threat of job losses to demand government support when things go wrong.”

Intu has 2,500 staff.

Peel and Intu declined to comment on the dividend payout.