AYRSHIRE entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter has hailed a year of good progress at his West Coast Capital investment operation and underlined his readiness to back more ‘exceptional founders’ of firms.

However, he noted that West Coast has increased its cash reserves by £20 million to £81m as the firm looks to retain its ability to invest in core assets amid a time of uncertainty.

The cash could also help him capitalise on opportunities that emerge if the market turbulence seen in recent months continues.

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Sir Tom has made plain that he thinks politicians failed badly in their handling of Brexit, claiming the public had not been given the facts required to make an informed decision in advance of the referendum in 2016.

The week before this month’s general election he underlined his view that there should be another referendum, declaring: “If it’s like ‘just get a bad deal done’ it doesn’t sound like a great strategy to me.”

But Sir Tom feels enough confidence in the prospects for the housing market in Scotland to be prepared to invest huge sums to help grow the West Lothian village of Winchburgh into a significant commuter town.

He said yesterday that the forming of a joint venture in January with housebuilder CALA should pave the way to the building of around 3,500 homes at Winchburgh over the next 15 years.

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“2020 will see five UK housebuilders on site, major progress with a new motorway spur, progress on new schools and negotiations continuing to bring a railway station to Winchburgh,” said Sir Tom.

The investment at Winchburgh reflects Sir Tom’s desire to use his wealth to help address social and economic issues.

He became one of Scotland’s richest men after selling the Sports Division retail business he developed for £290 million in 1998.

Sir Tom said the main reason West Coast Capital exists is to make money so that he can make donations to the charitable foundation he established.

“I’m very proud to say we donated over £5m there over this period, more on this next year,” he said.

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Sir Tom said other highlights of the latest year included West Coast’s continued investment in the TVSquared analytics business led by Calum Smeaton.

This has developed technology which allows advertisers to track online data to measure the impact of campaigns on television. The Edinburgh-based company says its technology is being used by thousands of advertisers across more than 70 countries.

Mr Smeaton helped develop the Orbital Technology business that Sir Tom Backed in 1998.

“Calum has built TVSquared into a global leader - we are lucky to be able to invest with such talented people,” said Sir Tom.

He added: “With strong cash reserves we continue to look for opportunities to back exceptional founders.”

West Coast Capital suffered hefty losses on its investments in firms such as McCarthy & Stone and Crest Nicolson after the housing market went into reverse in 2007.

However, Sir Tom has said the losses were due to the business investing in the firms at the wrong stage in the cycle rather than the sector itself.

He has spent years working on the Winchburgh scheme. West Coast bought into the project in 2007 and bought out other shareholders in 2014.

The future of the project began to look uncertain amid wrangling about who should pay for work on related facilities such as roads.

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However, West Coast announced in January that it had won backing for the plan from CALA after striking agreements with the Scottish Government and West Lothian Council to support work on infrastructure.

The development will include four new schools, a motorway spur, a giant public park and a new railway station.

CALA will build some homes at Winchburgh. It will work with West Coast to complete the developments required to ensure other housebuilders buy land on the site.

CALA was acquired by pensions giant Legal & General in March last year in a deal that valued it at £605m.

Legal & General said at the time that CALA had attractive growth prospects under its ownership citing its long term approach to investing and the attractive market for housebuilding in the UK.