Penwith District Council v VP Developments Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeThe Hon Mr Justice Laddie,Mr Justice Laddie
Judgment Date01 March 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] EWHC 259 (Ch)
CourtChancery Division
Date01 March 2005
Docket NumberCase No 5799 of 2004

[2005] EWHC 259 (Ch)






Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL


The Hon Mr Justice Laddie

Case No 5799 of 2004

Penwith District Council
V P Developments Limited

Hearing dates: 4 February, 2005

Approved Judgment

I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

Mr Justice Laddie The Hon Mr Justice Laddie

I have before me two cross-proceedings. One is a creditor's winding up petition. It was presented on 21 September 2004 by Penwith District Council ("the Petitioner") against V P Developments Ltd ("the Company"). The Petitioners seeks a compulsory winding up order. The application is brought by the Company. It applies for the striking out or a stay of the Petition. The Petitioner is represented by Mr Jeremy Goldring and the Company is represented by Mr Hugh Sims.


The facts underlying the current dispute are spread over a number of years. The Company carried on business as a building contractor and maintenance specialist. In the late 1980s it entered into a number of building contracts with the Petitioner relating to a number of projects under which it carried out renovations and other building work to flats and houses owned by the Petitioner. After the works were completed, disputes arose between the parties. In substance the Company said that the calculations made by the Petitioner to determine what it owed the Company under these contracts were incorrect. As a result, the Company said that it had been significantly underpaid by the Petitioner. Each of the contracts between the Company and the Petitioner contained an arbitration clause. In late 1993 the Company commenced eight arbitrations. Those arbitrations and the amounts sought in them are as follows:

a) Penbeagle


b) Bodriggy


c) Lanuthnoe


d) Pendarves


e) Alverton B2(b)


f) Alverton A2(a)


g) 2 Jobbing Works Contracts

£38,000 (approximately)


The progress of those arbitrations is a matter of some importance to the issues I have to decide. In the Penbeagle and Bodriggy arbitrations, on 28 May 1998 the Petitioner's appeal to the High Court against the interim award of the Arbitrator on a preliminary issue succeeded. A costs order was made in the Petitioner's favour in the sum of £21,000 plus interest at 8% per annum. The Arbitrator then dismissed the Company's claims in the Penbeagle and Bodriggy arbitrations on 21 July 1999, and ordered the Company to pay the Petitioner's costs. At the same time certain orders were made in the Lanuthnoe arbitration. I am told that the total value of the costs awarded in the Petitioner's favour as a result of these orders are estimated to be in the region of £100,000-£150,000. Those costs have not yet been assessed and, according to the Petitioner, a division of costs between the three arbitrations will require detailed analysis. The Company's claim in the Lanuthnoe arbitration is now dependent on a narrow ground. The Petitioner says that it is bound to fail. This is disputed by the Company. However, the Company has taken no further steps in this arbitration since 1999. In the Pendarves arbitration, costs have been awarded to the Petitioner and have been assessed. These costs represent the principal element in the Petition Debt. The Alverton B2(b) arbitration continues. On 2 September 1999, the Arbitrator ordered that security be provided by the Company in the Alverton A2(a) arbitration in the sum of £55,000 with costs to the Petitioner. The Company has failed to give the necessary security, with the result that that arbitration has been stayed. The Company has taken no further steps in it since 2 September 1999. As far as the 2 Jobbing Works Contracts are concerned, the Company has taken no steps since issuing Notices to Refer in March 1996. I understand that the Penbeagle arbitration was not a complete failure for the Company. An award of £700 was made in its favour but, notwithstanding this, in substance it lost, hence the costs order against it.


Based upon what has happened in the arbitrations to date, the Petitioner is a creditor of the Company in respect of various cost orders made on the 22 September 1998 and 28 October 1998. They are the Petition Debt. As at 29 November 2004 that debt, taking into account interest, stood at just over £96,000. Furthermore the Petitioner has the benefit of a High Court costs order in its favour dated 21 May 1999 which, together with interest, was worth just over £29,000 as at 29 November 2004. The latter sum is not referred to in the Petition, but the Petitioner says that it will apply, if necessary, to amend the Petition to rely on this additional sum. No such amendment would alter the outcome of this dispute one way or the other and no formal application to amend is before me.


In addition to these assessed sums, the Petitioner has the benefit of certain other unassessed cost orders made in its favour. The Petitioner asserts that as at 29 November 2004 they would have been worth approximately £154,000. I understand that the reason there has been no assessment is that the Company has paid no part of the assessed costs and is admittedly wholly insolvent. The Petitioner has taken the not unreasonable decision not to spend further sums on assessment when there is no realistic prospect of its recovering any part of the cost of the assessment exercise let alone the costs so assessed.


As I have said, there is no dispute that the Company is insolvent. In mid-1994, following a meeting of its then creditors, the Company entered into a CVA and a Supervisor was appointed. At the commencement of the CVA it was apparent that the Company was unable to pay its debts as and when they fell due. At that date the estimated deficiency to creditors, ignoring the value, if any, of the claims against the Petitioner, was £505,874. One of the purposes of the CVA was to allow the Company to pursue its claims against the Petitioner. It will be appreciated from what is set out above that at the time the Company assessed the latter claims to be worth nearly £600,000.


As at the date of the CVA, the Petitioner was a creditor of the Company for a sum which, I understand, was trivial. The various costs orders which are relied on to support the Petition only came into existence after the CVA.


It will be seen that the four biggest claims made by the Company are those in the Penbeagle, Bodriggy, Alverton B2(b) and Alverton A2(a) arbitrations. By far and away the largest is the Alverton B2(b) claim which is for more than 50% of the total value of all the claims together. The Alverton A2(a) claim was also very large. It was worth more than twice the combined value of the Penbeagle and Bodriggy arbitrations.


In the Alverton A2(a) arbitration the Petitioner applied for security for costs. As noted above, that application was successful and no security has been forthcoming. Thus the application for security succeeded in stopping that arbitration.


At about the same time as it applied for security in the latter arbitration, the Petitioner also applied for security in the Alverton B2(b) arbitration. In September an order for security in the sum of £60,000 was made by the arbitrator. However in this case the Company secured funding and, in early 2000, paid the security. In the result, that arbitration is continuing. The Company appears to have decided to concentrate all the resources it can muster in the pursuit of its biggest claim.


On 12 July 2000, the Company served Amended Points of Claim in the Alverton B2(b) arbitration. Unfortunately the arbitrator, Mr Fox-Andrews QC, became ill and died. A new arbitrator, Mr Ian Salisbury, was appointed in April 2003. Three things then happened. First, the Petitioner made an application for an increase in security of costs in that arbitration. That application was rejected by the arbitrator on 17 March 2004. Thus the Petitioner did not manage to achieve a stay of this arbitration. Second, the Petitioner having not yet served its defence, on 24 August 2004 it applied for an extension of time to do so. The arbitrator directed the Petitioner to serve its defence and the Scott Schedule by 31 December 2004. It was some 4 weeks after it had applied for this extension of time that the Petitioner presented this Petition. Third, at about the same time the Petitioner applied to the Bristol County Court for permission to enforce the award as if it were a judgment. No doubt defending that application put a further strain on the resources available to the Company. I was not told the purpose of that application.


The core disputes between the parties are as follows. First, the Petitioner says that if a creditor with standing to make the application wants to have a company wound up, and if the court is satisfied that the company is unable to pay its debts, a winding up order will follow unless there is some special reason why it should not ( Re Lummus Agricultural Services [1999] BCC 953). That it says is the position here, there being no doubt as to the Company's insolvency and its, the Petitioner's, debt. Second, and in response to this, the Company says that the court will dismiss the Petition if it is an abuse of process. In particular, a petition will be an abuse of process if it is being sought so as to secure some collateral purpose, such as to stifle related proceedings ( Re Majory [1955]...

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    ...judgment of Laddie J. delivering judgment in the Chancery Division of the High Court of England and Wales in Re VP Developments Ltd. [2005] 2 BCLC 607 (at p. 616) in which it was stated: "The relevant question is whether the cross-claim is closely related to the petition debt. If it is, the......

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