Controversial financier Lex Greensill’s multi-million pound plan to create a wildlife sanctuary at the end of his garden has been blocked by councillors worried that he won’t have enough cash to complete it.
The Aussie-born tycoon at the centre of the David Cameron lobbying scandal said it was his ‘dream’ to make a 500-acre wildlife haven behind his home in the rolling Cheshire countryside.
The land was to be bought for an estimated £4m from his local council with promises that he would spend millions more planting 100,000 trees, build paths and a forest school at the overgrown site.
But now bosses at Cheshire West and Cheshire Council have called in auditors to investigate whether Mr Greensill, 44, still has the money to make good on his promises for the project near his former vicarage home in a pretty village.
The sale of the council-owned land has been put on hold in the meantime.
Lex Greensill, the Australian financier caught up in the Westminster lobbying scandal, bought this former vicarage (above) with his wife Vicky, a doctor, as a family home for their two children. The pair have spent significantly on renovations
As well as spending around £3million on upgrading their eight bedroom home by building a three-storey extension and installing a home cinema, wine cellar and natural swimming pool, Mr Greensill wants to buy land behind his home (above)
Mr Greensill has been in talks with the council for a period of time with a view to purchasing 500 acres of land for around £4million with promises to spend millions more planting 100,000 trees, build paths and a forest school at the overgrown site
Greensill recruited former Prime Minister David Cameron to his finance firm. Here the men are dressed in suits as they sip tea around a campfire on their ‘desert camping trip’ to Saudi Arabia in January 2020. During the trip, they met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Council boss Andrew Lewis said he wanted ‘appropriate assurances’ from Mr Greensill over the deal after the collapse of his business empire – which has already resulted in the loss of more than 300 jobs in Cheshire.
It is thought the land alone would cost £4m and all the conservation work would add millions more.
Neighbours believe Mr Greensill has already spent than £3m to create his ‘perfect’ rural home complete with a massive wine cellar, waterfall and natural swimming pool.
He spent lockdown there with his doctor wife Vicky and two boys, aged seven and ten, and has only been seen once in public as he took his dog for a walk wearing wellies near his home since the David Cameron scandal erupted with accusations of Tory sleaze.
The ex-Prime Minister has been accused of using government contacts to try and get hundreds of millions of pounds in taxpayer loans to bail out Greensill Capital which he joined in 2018.
Mr Greensill is all smiles with his wife Vicky at Buckingham Palace after he was given a CBE for services to the economy
Mr Cameron had shares in the failed bank that he reportedly hoped could net him a £43m windfall.
Boris Johnson has now ordered a ‘thorough’ investigation.
Mr Greensill struck a deal with the council in February after he said he wanted to recreate the ‘freedom’ of his childhood spent in rural Australia, where his family ran a water melon and sugar cane farm near Bundaberg, Queensland.
But the Cheshire council have now halted the sale which has not yet been completed.
Council chief executive Mr Lewis said: ‘In the light of developments in Mr Greensill’s business, the Council has sought assurances from Mr Greensill that his commitment to invest in the local environment, and to deliver the programme of improvements to the land for wider community benefit as envisaged in his original proposal, remain unaffected.
‘The Council has acted with full transparency and integrity in its relationship with Mr Greensill and his agents, and we have received no evidence or suggestions otherwise.
‘Given the high level of public interest in Mr Greensill’s relationship with central government, the Council has commissioned our Internal Audit service to review all aspects of work undertaken on this transaction, to further assure our residents that best value has been secured, and that the steps taken by the Council at every stage in the transaction demonstrate integrity, due diligence and good governance.’
He added: ‘The land transaction will not be progressed unless and until appropriate assurances are in place.’
The Aussie financier said his wildlife haven was his green vision to do his bit to battle ‘climate change, wildlife decline and the loss of natural habitats’.
He stressed that he ‘had the privilege of growing up in a rural location’ and that ‘my brothers and I enjoyed the freedom to explore and learn about the natural world around us, something that we took for granted in our youth’.
Mr Greensill, who was last seen in wellies as he walked his dog near his home, however remains popular with local residents in his village with his plans to open the wildlife haven to the public.
Mr Cameron (left) is accused of giving Lex Greensill (right) access to the heart of government while he was Prime Minister. Since leaving government he has lobbied ministers including Chancellor Rishi Sunak for emergency loans to bail out the firm
He has also been seen serving at a cheese stall at the local farmer’s market and provided water from his sprawling property to allotments behind his walled garden.
Neighbours who have seen inside his home said it is ‘a thing of wonder’.
His underground wine cellar that is said to run the entire length of of his house and library.
He employs two-full gardeners to tend his sprawling huge walled garden which has its own waterfall, underground heating and water supply.
Dog walker Brian Wright, 73, said: ‘He’s obviously in the news for the wrong reasons but he’s liked by a lot of people in the village.
‘His plans for the wildlife haven went down very well as he held a meeting in the parish hall and told everyone.
‘He wants to open it up to everyone with paths and re-wild the area. I just hope it can still go ahead after his problems.’
He added: ‘You don’t see much of him but his house are garden are amazing.
‘He has a wooden deck for his natural swimming pool and there’s a waterfall and everything.
‘Money is no object but he has CCTV everyhwere so he knows what’s going.’
Mother-of-two Emma Brown, 35, said: ‘They are a lovely family who just want a perfect home.
‘He seems like a country squire and I believe there is even the old foundations of a ruined church in his grounds.
‘Apparently there’s lot of glass floors in the house to see through the house and someone said he had an orangery.
‘He had a building firm here for two years. There was a bit of commotion but no real hassle for people.’
The billionaire and his wife Vicky bought the house for £475,000 in 2014. It dates back to Victorian times and composer Sir Edward Elgar was a regular visitor.
He spent a further £1.8m on building a three-storey extension complete with games room, home cinema and dressing room.
Mr Greensill struck a deal with his local council in February to buy the land (above) after he said he wanted to recreate the ‘freedom’ of his childhood in rural Australia. But the council have now halted the sale which has not yet been completed
There’s even a separate summer house and several glass houses for Greensill to get back to his farming roots.
He has admitted that he is happier on a tractor than a suit.
Prince Charles presented him with a CBE for ‘services to the economy’ in 2017 but his business empire collapsed last month, with the loss of 300 jobs in Cheshire alone.
Administrators revealed 305 of 440 employees made redundant nationally were based at Daresbury Park near Warrington.
The company operated four large buildings at the site.
Weaver Vale Labour MP Mike Amesbury, who uncovered the latest details, told Cheshire Live: ‘Sadly, more than 300 jobs have been lost in my constituency. This is in addition to 5,000 UK jobs put at risk at Liberty Steel financed by Greensill.’
He added: ‘Employees working in my constituency and beyond are casualties of an unsustainable business model – corporate casino banking – that is currently unregulated and that must be addressed.
‘The case also raises many serious questions about Tory cronyism and what looks like an abuse of power even if no laws were broken.’