Is the departure of Sakkara the end of a painful era for the residents and the retirement village sector?

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It’s a conundrum. The Landings is a fabulous retirement village. (In fact, I supported my mother-in-law becoming a resident). However, the relationship between the operator, Sakkara, and residents has been poisonous.

This is one quote from a resident that we received this week:

“Chris, as you know at last our long sent prayers have now been answered and the cavalry has arrived meaning bloody Sakkara, together with their antics which have caused us [and you too!!]so much frustration and cost, will soon disappear when the Village is handed over mid-February to Paul Browne and co at LDK”.

The residents tell us that they have invested well over $100,000 in legal fees across more than 20 appearances before the tribunal and other Courts. They won “most, if not all”, of their cases involving “millions” in questioned recurrent charges over the years as well as “forcing Sakkara to fix defective buildings and more recently provide services never provided beforehand”.

Four of the residents created their own political party (Seniors United Party of Australia which now has branches in four states and will run candidates at both the coming State and Federal elections) to try to make politicians take notice of retirement village residents’ plights.

And then they had the good fortune of having Matt Kean as a local member (in the next electorate – Hornsby); as Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation, he is now the Minister responsible for retirement villages in NSW.

You can make a direct link between The Landings, Matt Kean, the Greiner Inquiry and all the legislative change being forced on the retirement village sector commencing last November.

The Landings also generated a State Resident Association President, the late Jan Pritchard, who valiantly set out to get balance in the relationship. She was succeeded by Tom Gait as President, a resident of a neighbouring village and well connected to Matt Kean as well as The Landings campaigners.

When the Retirement Village Association (RVA) existed, Andrew Giles as CEO made repeated representations to Sakkara to work with the residents, and RVA board members like Bill McClurg at their own cost flew over from South Australia to support residents in discussions, without success.

So, what is the back story?

The Landings is Sakkara’s last village, but it made a medium fortune out of the sector over 15 years. Led by Neil Wilson and Nick Reid, they rapidly built a portfolio of eight villages in the early 2000s, including The Landings which was a joint development venture with the Royal Australian Air Force Association (RAAFA).

They sold seven villages in 2007 (just pre-GFC) to Simon Owen for a reputed $80 million when Owen was rapidly building Aevum as he was taking it public (from the old Hibernian Society). Reid then fell out with Wilson and RAAFA and departed. Wilson stayed on to buy out RAAFA in 2009 to finish The Landings.

(Reid later joined Owen at Ingenia and is now building a new retirement living group on behalf of overseas investors).

Without Reid, Wilson and Reid’s replacement David Bedingfield seemingly embarked on a constant collision course with the residents over money – ‘who pays for what’ arguments – and rectification works, resulting in 10 years of conflict with many residents in the village involving a record number of tribunal appearances for any retirement village in NSW.

Wilson became an absent owner. For the past 10 years he has been a major developer in Vietnam, with Bedingfield as his CEO of Sakkara.

To hear how residents feel about the change of ownership I asked resident Neil Smith, who has been a campaigner for all retirement village residents’ rights for well over a decade, and who with his wife Patti, were the first to move into the village over 15 years ago.

“At our advanced age in life the old originals still here, who years ago were promised so much by RAAFA but never received those promised services by Sakkara, are absolutely euphoric to hear Paul Browne’s pledge to provide in-home assistance services right down to dementia and palliative care, for everyone who joins his LDK family. Bring it on…  we can’t wait!”


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