Bid from property tycoon puts Swan Hill in play

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The Independent Online

Anton Bilton, the millionaire property developer, whose string of famous girlfriends make him a regular in newspaper gossip pages, yesterday led a bid for upmarket home builder Swan Hill.

A bidding vehicle set up by Mr Bilton and his associates said it had made an all-share offer for Swan Hill, which, despite developing property in the south of England's hotspots, announced in September a halving of profit to £1.9m in the first half of the year.

Mr Bilton, 39, is the majority shareholder and chief executive of Raven Group, a private group of companies specialising in residential property development.

He will also be an executive director of Raven Mount, the company set up to put together the bid for Swan Hill, which will float on the junior AIM if its offer is successful.

Mr Bilton said the attraction of Swan Hill was that it was "a housebuilder whose net asset value is trading at a very large discount to its share price".

His group believes it can narrow the share price's discount to its net asset value by improving the management of the company. Swan Hill's shares surged 13 per cent to 88.5p last night.

On Tuesday, before the bid was revealed, it was valued at £46.8m. Raven Mount will offer one share for each share in Swan Hill. Mr Bilton is a high-profile figure in the City, where his projects include sitting on the board of Avanti Capital, the private equity business which also numbers Damian Aspinall, the zoo owner, among its directors.

Avanti bought the bar and nightclub operator Po Na Na in August. Mr Bilton is a shareholder in Durlacher, the mini investment bank.

He is also a familiar face on the social scene, having finished a relationship with the self-styled It girl, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, before becoming involved with the model Lisa B, who starred in the film Bridget Jones's Diary.

Raven Mount, which is being advised by WestLB, said in a statement that it had received the backing of more than 50 per cent of shareholders in Swan Hill. That includes Schroder Investment Management, which holds 15 per cent of the company and has given an irrevocable undertaking to accept the Raven Mount offer.

However, the bid could prompt other interested parties to come forward, especially as some institutional investors may not want to exchange a holding in a property company whose shares are deeply discounted to its net asset value for a stake in a property business listed on AIM.

Swan Hill responded with a holding statement saying it would respond more fully once it had considered the offer.