They could hardly be more different... the idyllic sun-kissed beaches of the British Virgin Islands and the windy streets of Blackpool.
But the two share a gilt-edged secret, thanks to the shadowy “tax haven” status of the Caribbean paradise.
Nominal companies registered overseas now own land valued in the hundreds of millions of pounds on the Fylde coast.
Businesses based in places such as the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Isles, Hong Kong, Panama and the Turks and Caicos Islands have also invested heavily in the area over the past decade.
With the news that Blackpool’s Houndshill centre has just been bought by New Frontier Properties – registered in Mauritius – for £105m, firms registered overseas view local property as big business.
Hundreds of packages of land and buildings – some of them Fylde landmarks – are listed among the assets acquired by offshore firms between 2005 and 2014, according to a recent investigation.
When it’s so easy to set up a company in places like the Virgin Islands to escape the British tax net, then why wouldn’t you?
The ground which properties such as the Houndshill all stand on has been bought by companies with their headquarters overseas.
But it isn’t just the multi-million pound properties which attract largely anonymous investors based thousands of miles away.
Yet, while the tax haven status of dozens of nations around the world allows land and property owners here to avoid paying millions to the British Exchequer, it is all above board.
A Lancashire-based accountant said: “When it’s so easy to set up a company in places like the Virgin Islands to escape the British tax net, then why wouldn’t you?”
The BVI, holiday home to Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, is a major global player in the offshore financial services industry. And much of the Fylde coast’s prime real estate has attracted serious interest from companies based there.
The islands offer total anonymity to businesses who register their headquarters in what they themselves prefer to call an “offshore financial centre.”
Discretion is assured, so investors, directors, agents and managers can all do business behind a dark cloak of secrecy. If required, nominee directors can be provided – some BVI locals lend their names to hundreds of companies.
Businesses do not have to publish accounts. And the annual licence fees that firms pay for that privacy, and its generous tax breaks, make up more than half of the nation’s economy.
Yet not all overseas companies with interests in the Fylde coast area are enjoying tax haven status, according to the investigation by Private Eye magazine.
While the avoidance of tax by companies registered abroad can mean a significant loss to the British Exchequer, it does not have any direct financial bearing on the local economy, says Lancashire’s “Chancellor” County Coun David Borrow.
But the deputy leader at County Hall revealed he was surprised by the scale of overseas interests.
“I knew it was a significant factor in central London with a lot of properties both residential and commercial being owned by companies registered abroad,” he said. “But I wasn’t aware it was a significant issue here. I don’t think it is anything to be concerned about as long as there is no illegality being hidden. Certainly where councils are concerned, if we are owed money and we don’t know exactly who owns a property then we can put a charge on that so that when it is eventually sold we get our money.
“Being a British Overseas Territory the UK could enforce stricter regulations on companies in the BVI if we wished to do so. But that is a matter for the Government.”
Fylde properties and their owners
• West View Health Village, Broadway, Fleetwood is owned by a company based in Guernsey
• 3 Falmouth Avenue, Larkholme, Fleetwood,is owned by a company registered in Jersey
• 61 Green Drive, Thornton-Cleveleys, is owned by a company from the Isle of Man
• Land and garages at Beach Road, Thornton-Cleveleys is owned by a company from the Isle of Man
• The Crescent West Buildings, Crescent West, Cleveleys is also owned by an Isle of Man company
• 7 Meadows Avenue, Thornton, owned by an Isle of Man firm
• Land and buildings on the North side of Victoria Road East, Thornton is owned by a company from the British Virgin Islands
• 15 Epsom Road, Anchorsholme, is owned by a Luxembourg firm
• Land lying to the north east of Kincraig Road, Blackpool, is owned by a Seychelles firm
• 43-47 Red Bank Road, Blackpool is owned by an Isle of Man firm
• The owner of the Bull Hotel, Market Place, Poulton, is registered in the Cayman Islands
• 133-143 Dickson Road, Blackpool is owned by a BVI firm
• Service Station, 159-163 Devonshire Road, Blackpool, owned by a Jersey firm
• 8 to 20 (even) Queen Street, Blackpool, owned by a Jersey firm
• 23 Talbot Road, Blackpool, owned by a firm from the Cayman Islands
• Land and building on the west side of Bank Hey Street, Blackpool, owned by a Guernsey firm
• 7 to 15 (odd) Church Street, Blackpool, owned by a Jersey company
• Hounds Hill Centre, Victoria Street, now owned by a firm based in Mauritius
• 58 and 60 Albert Road, Blackpool, owned by a firm based in the UAE,
• 76 Bank Hey Street, Blackpool, owned by a Guernsey firm
• Castle Hotel, Central Drive, Blackpool, owned by a Luxembourg firm
• The owner of 42A, 44, 44A, 46, 46A, 48, 48A, 50 and 50A Central Drive, 2, 4 and 4A Hornby Road and 1 Vance Road, Blackpool, is registered in the Isle of Man
• Land and garages numbered 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13 and 14 on the south side of Leamington Road, Blackpool, owned by a Isle of Man firm
• Land on the south side of Bickerstaffe Street, Blackpool, is owned by an Isle of Man firm
• The Foxhall Hotel, 193-197 Promenade, Blackpool, is owned by a Cayman Islands firm
• The Manchester, 231-233 Promenade, Blackpool, is owned by a Cayman Islands firm
• Land lying to the south of Kirby Road, Blackpool, is owned by an Isle of Man firm
• 305-321 Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, owned in Jersey
• The Saddle, Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, owned by a Cayman Islands-registered firm
• 50 South Park Drive, Blackpool, is owned by an Isle of Man firm
• Land Lying to the south of Waterloo Road is Jersey-owned
• 163, Highfield Road and 1-22 Skerryvore Residential Park, Highfield Road, Blackpool, are Isle of Man owned,
• 569 New South Promenade, Blackpool, The Hotel Skye, 571 and 573 and 577 New South Promenade, Blackpool, are also Isle of Man owned
• Land on the south west side of Queensway, St Annes, is owned by a Seychelles firm,
• Land on the North East side of Scafell Road, Queensway Industrial Estate, is owed by an Isle of Man firm,
• 1-12 (inclusive) and 14-25 (inclusive), Woodlands View, Ansdell, are owned by a Guernsey based-firm
• Land on the west side of Ballam Road, Lytham, is owned by a Guernsey-registered firm
• 17 Fairhaven Road, Lytham St Annes, owned by an Isle of Man firm,
• Land on the south side of Preston Road, Lytham, has a German owner,
• Ship & Royal, 91 Clifton Street, Lytham, is owned by a Dutch company