SOME investors want want refunds from a south Essex business which has taken at least £180million in deposits to build international holiday resorts, after years of delays to the ambitious projects.

Harlequin Property, of Honywood Road, Basildon, says its clients have paid for about 6,000 properties to be built across six Caribbean resorts, and one in Brazil, since it started selling about six years ago.

According to its website, it has now only opened 192 villas, or rooms, at its partially-built flagship resort Buccament Bay, in St Vincent, since August 2010, while 100 others are near completion with 700-odd still to be built.

Harlequin accepts there have been delays, which it blames on the economic downturn, and has promised investors will see “significant”

developments at many of its resorts this year.

However, some investors, who were told their properties would be built within three to four years, have asked for the return of their 30 per cent deposits.

A woman from London, who would not be named, said she remortgaged her house to invest £150,000 towards a £495,000 villa at Buccament Bay in 2007.

She said she was told it would be built by December 2008 – however there is still no guaranteed date.

She said: “I am at the point where I want a refund, but it is not forthcoming. They have said they will pay it back over 18 months.

That was not in my contract.”

Contracts state deposits would be repaid within 90 days if a completion date falls back by six months, with reasonable costs deducted.

She added: “They said they wanted me to accept it being paid back over two years, then 18 months.”

Commenting on her claims, a Harlequin spokesman said: “The exact timescale for the return of a deposit depends on the investor’s individual contract.

In a number of cases, Harlequin has been able to return many deposits with a profit, thanks to our resale service.”

The business is sponsoring a Britain’s Got Talent prize and has a host of celebrities endorsing its investments, such as tennis ace Pat Cash, Golf legend Gary Player, and ITV football pundit Andy Townsend, It is made up of a number of UK and Caribbean companies run by Dave Ames, 60, and wife Carole Ames, 60, of Brock Hill, Wickford.

A director of a major accountancy firm, who would not be named, said: “I am informally advising a number of investors about getting their deposits back.”

Some people who paid deposits for one of around 1,000 homes planned at Merricks Resort in Barbados originally due to be completed by the end of 2008, have seen the completion date slip by more than three years – with none of the predicted returns.

One man, who would not be named, said: “After a lot of hassle I did eventually get my deposit back, paid over 12 months.”

Some investors have ploughed personal pension plans into the properties. Howard Winter invested his pension in Buccament Bay.

He said: “It is taking longer than we hoped, but I am happy. It is a pension, so I am in it for the long-term.

“It is now involved with Britain’s Got Talent, so that will raise the profile.”

Harlequin accepts there have been delays in building its holiday resorts, but pledged it was on course for phased openings from 2013.

The firm says less than one per cent (fewer than 60) of its investors had asked for deposits back.

A spokeswoman said: “Our investors are kept regularly informed on how each resort is progressing. The overwhelming majority appreciates we are now progressing very well.

“All of Harlequin’s current projects are on course for phased openings from 2013 and we hold regular face-to-face meetings for investors, as well as providing updates online.

“We have the capacity to deliver all these projects and are committed to meeting our targets.”

Harlequin said its Buccament Bay resort was valued last year at US$240million (around £150million based on current exchange rates) and the value was rising as more properties and facilities were finished there.

The business is also currently renovating two smaller Caribbean hotels, into luxury Harlequin boutiques, which it says will lead to quicker returns for investors.

On Sunday, it opened one of them, Blu Hotel, St Lucia, before a planned major conversion next year while planning permission is finalised.

The spokeswoman said this, and the opening of phase one of Buccament Bay, showed it was making good progress. She added: “Harlequin accepts, however, that there have been some delays.”

The firm said the delays at Buccament Bay were primarily due to problems caused by the developer of phase one of the resort, the ICE Group run by Padraig O’Halloran, not finishing all the work under the contract.

This has now gone to court.

She said: “There are additional challenges involved with carrying out building projects in the Caribbean, where delays are not untypical.

“For instance, in Barbados, a change in local planning laws meant that construction work was interrupted for a year due to circumstances outside our control.

“We have, however, brought in additional resources in order to make up time that was lost.”

Harlequin said investor concerns were taken very seriously by the company.

The spokeswoman said: “Less than one per cent have asked for deposits to be returned and for a variety of reasons, often a change of personal circumstances.

"The exact timescale for the return of a deposit depends on the investor’s individual contract. In a number of cases, Harlequin has been able to return many deposits with a profit, thanks to our resale service.”

Harlequin added that partnering with the likes of Liverpool FC and Pat Cash was giving investors more for their money, and had increased its initial plans and their value.

* If you have invested with Harlequin, contact investigative reporter Jon Austin: 01268 469304