Appeal transforms HTV's fortunes

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HTV GROUP, which has been forced into emergency cost-cutting in order to finance its Independent Television franchise, has won a crucial planning appeal that will enable it to sell 15 acres of prime land next to its Cardiff studios, writes Jason Nisse.

The group is expected this morning to announce plans to sell the 15 acres at Culverhouse Cross, near the centre of Cardiff, to be developed as a retail park.

The money raised from the development will hopefully secure the future independence of HTV, which has been under pressure since September when it announced it had to shave pounds 10m from costs in order to fund its pounds 20.5m bid, which secured the renewal of its franchise in Wales and the West of England. Its shares collapsed, and are now 20p, less than half their September level.

Rumours have been rife within the TV industry that HTV might be stripped of its franchise because of its financial difficulties, and that TV-am, which loses its franchise on 1 January but has lots of cash, has approached HTV for a link.

However, the successful appeal against Cardiff city council's decision to refuse planning permission for the Culverhouse Cross retail park could transform HTV's finances without TV-am's help.

HTV has around pounds 20m of debt, but it owns 42 acres at Culverhouse Cross that is valued, without planning permission, at pounds 24m. The value of the 15-acre retail site, with planning permission, is expected to exceed pounds 20m.