Investors join forces to stop break-up of Planestation

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The Independent Online

Private investors in Planestation, the airport developer previously known as Wiggins, have launched an action group in an attempt to prevent the break-up of the company and get its chief executive reinstated.

The action group, formed by 30 or so investors who contacted one another through internet bulletin boards, hopes to muster enough support among other small shareholders to convene an extraordinary meeting to back its demands.

A website, www.pssilentmajority.org, has been set up and the action group has appointed a firm of lawyers, Gordon Dadds, and a public relations adviser to represent it.

Oliver Iny, Planestation's long-serving chief executive, was ousted earlier this month in a boardroom coup instigated by its largest shareholder Prudential, which holds a 15 per cent stake.

Mr Iny's plan had been to turn Planestation's main asset, Manston airport in Kent, into a new hub for budget airlines to rival Luton and Stansted.

Private investors, many of whom bought in at prices substantially above the current share price, now fear that Planestation will be broken up - a move which would net Prudential a profit but which would leave them nursing heavy losses. A break-up could value the group at 10p a share compared with last night's close of 4.5p but many private investors paid as much as 45p for their shares.

The spokesman for the action group, Stephen Lock, said Mr Iny was not a member, nor had he any involvement in its campaign. By last night, the website had attracted 308 visits.

The ousting of Mr Iny came just six weeks after shareholders, including Prudential, backed a £46m refinancing of the company. It is thought that Prudential and two Swiss funds supporting it want to install the former MEPC property executive Robert Ware as a prelude to a break-up of the business.

Prudential and the two Swiss funds together hold 22 per cent of the shares in Planestation. But, unusually for a public company, about 40 per cent of the shares are held by 44,000 private investors. Many of them live in Kent close to Manston airport and bought the shares as a way of demonstrating support for the expansion plan.

Mr Iny was temporarily replaced as chief executive by Planestation's chairman Richard Bernays, although it has now brought in Martin May to run the company.

It is thought that Prudential and the two Swiss funds had been prepared to convene an egm to vote off the entire board unless it agreed to remove Mr Iny.

Ironically, Mr Iny's departure coincided with Manston (which is now renamed Kent International airport) landing its first big customer. Eujet, a new low-cost airline headed by a former Ryanair executive, plans to operate 27 routes from the airport and carry 300,000 passengers in its first year.

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