Taxi chair quits after revolt over land swap deal with wealthy Sydney family

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

By: Anne Hyland

The chairman of listed taxi group A2B, which operates nationally with brands such as 13cabs and Silver Service, has announced his retirement, following a shareholder revolt over a controversial property deal that involved one of Sydney’s wealthiest families.

A2B chair Paul Oneile will retire immediately and be replaced by fellow board director David Grant, who chairs the company’s audit and risk committee. “We will now embark on a process of board renewal and refresh,” Mr Grant said.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported last week that A2B had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the property development company Addenbrooke, owned by the wealthy O’Neil family, in which the two would undertake a controversial land swap deal.

The land swap transaction, which was set to be finalised in May, drew the ire of some of A2B’s biggest shareholders, Sandon Capital and Investors Mutual, who wanted the MoU with Addenbrooke abandoned.

In a letter sent to A2B’s board and management in January, Sandon Capital founder and chief investment officer Gabriel Radzyminski said the proposed land swap transaction created a tax liability for A2B. As well, he argued that the company had not disclosed whether it went through a competitive process in its decision to dispose of the land. He also said that A2B had “materially under-reported the value of its property assets for some time”.

A2B intended to swap an 8489 square metre unimproved site it owns in Alexandria, a suburb 4 kilometres from Sydney’s CBD, with land owned by Addenbrooke that is 2440 square metre in size. Addenbrooke’s property shares a boundary with A2B’s site.

A2B’s site is a five-minute walk from Green Square, which has been one of the country’s biggest urban renewal projects in the past decade, where a train station, supermarkets and cafes have been developed in recent years alongside thousands of apartments in an area that used to be mostly commercial and industrial.

A2B has said the value of its property is $57 million but a NSW government valuation has said the land is worth $71 million. An independent valuation by JLL, commissioned by one of A2B’s shareholders Sandon Capital, said the A2B site was worth $77.4 million.

A2B intends to exchange its property for Addenbrooke’s — the latter’s land is estimated to be worth around $20 million by the NSW government. As part of the swap transaction, Addenbrooke would build A2B a nine-storey office complex, with a lettable area of 9634 square metre that A2B would own as part of the deal. The taxi group says the value of the new property and office building it would own would be $135 million.

Addenbrooke has not disclosed its development plans for the 8489 sq/m site it would gain in the deal.

Addenbrooke is a well-regarded and savvy property developer. The private company was founded three decades ago by patriarch Denis O’Neil, who won the 1968 Sydney to Hobart and competed in Olympic sailing events in Munich and Montreal. Addenbrooke has developed many prominent projects across the city and interstate.

Denis O’Neil had originally founded Hymix concrete which was later sold to Pioneer. The company, whose projects include residential, commercial, hotel and marina developments, is run by O’Neil’s three sons, Ned, Jake and Toby.

In 2018, Ned O’Neil featured in the social pages for his lavish three-day wedding held at Hamilton Island’s qualia resort, where he married Deborah Symond, the daughter of Aussie Homes Loan founder and rich lister John Symond.

A2B’s shares were trading up 2.6c at $1.18 in late afternoon trading.

At A2B’s annual general meeting last November, 42 per cent of shareholders voted against the re-election of Mr Oneile. Half of A2B’s shareholders voted against the adoption of the company’s remuneration report, and 42 per cent had voted against the grant of performance rights to the group’s chief executive Andrew Skelton.

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